George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

A Peek Inside New York City Ballet's Annual Tradition

Premiere Of 'The Nutcracker' Ballet With Queen As Designer In Copenhagen
Ole Jensen Corbis/Getty Images

To many families, the New York City Ballet's production of choreographer George Balanchine's The Nutcracker is an annual tradition. The first performance of the popular production was in February 1954 in New York City. It was the creation of this ballet by Balanchine for the New York City Ballet that began the tradition of celebrating the Christmas holidays with performances of the enchanting ballet.

The History of The Nutcracker

E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote the original story called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. This German author wrote the story in 1816 of how a young, traditional Christmas toy known as the Nutcracker comes alive and takes away a woman, known as character Marie Stahlbaum, to a magical kingdom of dolls after defeating an evil Mouse King in battle. In 1844, Alexandre Dumas created an adaptation of The Nutcracker which was used as a nearly identical plot for Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker. One of the only differences in the ballet and the original story is that Marie's name is often changed to Clara.

The New York City Ballet

The New York City Ballet usually presents around 50 performances of The Nutcracker Ballet each year. Having two acts and an intermission, a typical production for The Nutcracker can last anywhere from an hour and thirty minutes to two hours long. Here are a few fun facts about the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker performance from behind the scenes, costume and design and onstage performance.

Behind the Scenes Production

  • A total of 57 people works backstage to coordinate the scenery, lighting and costumes during each performance.
  • Between 600 and 700 lighting instruments are used in the stage lighting for the production.
  • Most of the scenery in the production is painted fabric.
  • The music for the violin solo during the change of scenery in Act I is taken from another of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores, The Sleeping Beauty.

On Stage Music and Details

  • The giant Christmas tree grows to a full height of 41 feet, weighing in at 1 ton.
  • A total of 62 musicians plays in the orchestra during each performance.
  • The music for the Coffee dance is based on the melody of a Georgian lullaby.
  • Approximately 50 pounds of paper confetti falls onto the stage creating the snowstorm.
  • The special instrument we hear during the Sugar Plum Fairy’s solo is called a celesta.


  • In each performance, 150 costumes will appear onstage.
  • The Sugar Plum Fairy’s tutu contains seven layers of tulle.
  • The Dewdrop’s costume is embellished with 65 crystal "dewdrops."
  • The metal-framed skirt of Mother Ginger weighs 40 pounds.
  • Each Candy Cane costume contains 144 jingle bells.
  • The only costumes still used from the original 1954 production are the Grandmother’s cape and the embroidered appliqués on the female’s costumes during the Tea dance.
  • The bodices of the dresses worn by the women in the Hot Chocolate Dance are decorated with small cameo pictures of New York City Ballet founders Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine.

Source: New York City Ballet