By Lobby Motika
Palisades News Contributor
The Nutcracker ballet was first presented at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, a week before Christmas in 1892. This production was a failure. Neither the critics nor the audience liked it, even though Czar Alexander III was delighted with the ballet.
Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky had been commissioned by mastermind choreographer Marius Petipa to compose the ballet with a score based on Alexandre Dumas’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
While The Nutcracker was not an instant success, its appeal grew, especially in the United States, and today no ballet company would think of striking it from its repertoire.
The first performance of The Nutcracker in the United States was by the San Francisco Opera Ballet, in 1944, directed by George Balanchine student William Christensen.
The New York City Ballet first performed Balanchine’s Nutcracker in 1954, but the holiday ballet did not begin to achieve its great popularity until after the Balanchine staging became a hit in New York City.
By changing a few characters, Balanchine brought new life to the ballet, and that is the version American audiences have come to love.
The plot revolves around a German girl named Clara Stahlbaum and her coming-of-age one Christmas holiday. In Hoffmann’s tale, the girl’s name is Maria, while Clara is the name of one of her dolls. In Moscow Ballet’s version of the Nutcracker, known as the Great Russian Nutcracker, she is affectionately called Masha.
The Great Russian Nutcracker includes other unique elements in the telling of the traditional holiday tale. The setting is in Moscow and the city’s famous onion-domed skyline is featured as a backdrop. Traditional Russian folk characters (Father Christmas Snow Maiden) escort Masha and the Nutcracker Prince to their dream world in Act II.
Finally, the “Dove of Peace,” exclusive to Moscow Ballet’s version, welcomes the couple to the “Land of Peace and Harmony” traditionally called “The Land of Sweets.”
Both versions of the ballet will be performed in Los Angeles.
Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker: December 16 at 7 p.m.; December 17 at 1 p.m. at the Wiltern Theatre, 3790 Wilshire (corner of Western). Tickets: $87-$380.
Los Angeles Ballet: December 10 at 5 p.m.; December 11 at 1 p.m. at the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood and Highland. Tickets: $41-$374.
Los Angeles Ballet: December 16 at 7:30 p.m.; December 17 at 1 and 5 p.m. and December 18 at 1 and 5 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Tickets: $60-$225.