Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The History of the Nutcracker Ballet

by | December 21, 2012 | 10 comments

Postcard of ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Sugarplum Fairy with Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche in the Imperial Ballet's original production of the Nutcracker.

Postcard of ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Sugarplum Fairy with Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche in the Imperial Ballet’s original production of the Nutcracker.

One of our family holiday traditions when I was a child was to attend the Nutcracker Ballet every year. I first took my daughter to see the Nutcracker when she was three years old. Perhaps it was a bit early, but at the time she was taking a dance class and loved Angelina Ballerina, and sure enough, she was enthralled from the moment the curtain opened. So began our annual tradition of attending the Nutcracker each Christmas season.

My daughter is now ten and dance is still her favorite activity. After attending a performance of the Nutcracker last week, she started asking questions about its history, so we decided to do a little research. The Nutcracker Ballet was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 17, 1892. I am lucky to have attended both an opera and a ballet at the theater, so I dug through some old albums and boxes and was able to find a ticket and a picture to share with her.  (Historical Note: The Mariinsky Theatre became the property of the state in 1917. In 1920 it began to be called the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and in 1935 it was renamed after Sergei Mironovich Kirov. On January 16, 1992, the theatre’s historic name was restored and it became the Mariinsky Theatre once again).


The Mariinsky Theatre c. 1996

The Mariinsky Theatre c. 1996

The Nutcracker Ballet was based on Alexandre Dumas’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s book, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The dancing was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with the music composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The first production of The Nutcracker received bad reviews from critics and was considered a failure. The ballet was performed in Western Europe in the 1930s and came to America by 1940, but it did not become popular until the 1950s when choreographer George Balanchine made some changes in his 1954 production for the New York City Ballet, establishing it as a holiday tradition and creating the version we still watch today.

Ticket from the Mariinsky Theatre c. 1987 (known as the Kirov at that time)

Ticket from the Mariinsky Theatre c. 1987 (known as the Kirov at that time)

Tchaikovsky died in November of 1893, less than a year after the first performance of the Nutcracker. He never knew how successful and well-known his music would become. The score from the Nutcracker has become one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions and several of the melodies can be heard on television and in film. Can you name a movie or commercial featuring Tchaikovsky’s music from the Nutcracker? What are your holiday traditions?





Ally Broadfield writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia. She would love to see you on her website or Facebook page.


  1. Angelyn

    Yay for Angelina Ballerina! And bravo to the Nutcracker. There’s a good article on the development of the Nutcracker ballet in this country, which was a departure from the Imperial Russian choreography: http://on.wsj.com/ZeBb5S.

    Watching the famous Ballanchine production with Gelsey Kirkland and Mikail Baryshnikov is my yearly tradition.

    • Ally Broadfield

      I love that version as well, Angelyn. Ovation holds Battle of the Nutcrackers every year before Christmas, and I managed to catch both the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky performances this year. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Amber Belldene

    Ally, this is very interesting! Cool to think about all this history to something being performed in so many locales by little kids–it makes the tradition more meaningful to me. And poor Tchaikovsky–I always feel sad when people miss out on their own success like that.

    • Ally Broadfield

      Thanks, Ally. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for Tchaikovsky myself.

      • Ally Broadfield

        Stupid autocorrect! Thanks, Amber!

  3. Ella Quinn

    Ally, what a wonderful post. Great information.

    • Ally Broadfield

      Thanks for coming by, Ella.

  4. Susan Macatee

    Great post, Ally! I used to dance both as a child and again as a young adult, studying ballet, tap and jazz. And as a child, I dreamed of being a ballerina.

    As the mother of three boys, though, The Nutcracker wasn’t something they had any interest in.

  5. Ally Broadfield

    I know what you mean, Susan. I haven’t been able to get either of my boys to join us.

  6. Julie Robinson

    It’s a shame Tchaikovsky didn’t get to enjoy his success. My sister and I coaxed our 20 year old sons to see the ballet in Houston by saying it was like a Christmas gift to us to do something Christmasy together, since my sis and I now live in different states. They were pleasantly surprised.



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