Interesting Facts and Details About "The Nutcracker" Ballet

nutcracker ballet

Getty Images/Corbis Entertainment/Ole Jensen

The classic fairy-tale ballet "The Nutcracker," popular the world over and performed at Christmas time, revolves around the personal awakening of a young girl over one Christmas holiday. The well-known Christmas story has been published in books, including colorful books for children. It has become the most frequently performed ballet in the world.

Fact 1: Tchaikovsky Composed the Music

In 1891, world-renowned Imperial Russian Ballet choreographer Marius Petipa commissioned Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) to compose the music for Alexandre Dumas’ (1802-1870) adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s (1776-1882) fantasy story “​The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”

Fact 2: The Story Originally Wasn't for Children

The story is about a girl who befriends a nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve and wages a battle against the evil Mouse King. Hoffman's original work showed humanity's dark-sided nature and was definitely not appropriate for children. Choreographer Petipa chose to follow a light adaptation of the story written by Dumas — a prolific French author in the 19th century.

Fact 3: It Premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892

"The Nutcracker" ballet premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892. It was performed along with Tchaikovsky's one-act opera "Iolanta."

Fact 4: Tchaikovsky Didn't Think It Compared to His Other Scores

In 1892, Tchaikovsky finished composing the music for "The Nutcracker." Afterward, he wrote that he felt the fairy-tale's music was "infinitely poorer" than that of "Sleeping Beauty," which he finished two years prior. It was the last of his three ballets — the first of which was "Swan Lake."

Fact 5: The Sugar Plum Fairy's Sound Was Based on a New Instrument

Tchaikovsky based the "voice" of the Sugar Plum Fairy on a new instrument he discovered in Paris: the celesta. The instrument had a clear, bell-like tone with ethereal notes, perfect for the fairy-tale ambiance of "The Nutcracker." He also used children's toys as instruments in keeping with the tale as a children's story.

Fact 6: The Nutcracker Suite Was a Precursor to the Ballet

Despite Tchaikovsky's feelings toward the music in "The Nutcracker," he released "The Nutcracker Suite" prior to the ballet's premiere. The suite was a success.

Fact 7: Vsevolojsky Was Instrumental to the Ballet's Existence

Without Ivan Alexandrovitch Vsevolojsky, "The Nutcracker" ballet may not have happened. He was responsible for gathering and securing the artists and talent involved with creating the ballet.

Fact 8: Two Different Choreographers Created "The Nutcracker"

Choreographer Petipa became ill during the creation of "The Nutcracker" and withdrew. His assistant of seven years, Lev Ivanov, took his place and completed the choreography. Though Ivanov's style of dance differed from Petipa, it was hardly noticeable, as Petipa left strict guidelines for Ivanov to follow.

Fact 9: The Very First Performers

The first performance of the Christmas ballet was conducted by Riccardo Drigo. Antoinetta Dell-Era was the Sugar Plum Fairy and Pavel Gerdt was her prince. Stanislava Belinskaya played Clara/Masha, Sergei Legat was the Nutcracker Prince and Timofei Stukolkin was Uncle Drosselmeyer.

Fact 10: The First Full-Length Production Was in the U.S.

The Christmas ballet was first performed outside of Russia in England in 1934, but the full-length production first appeared in the United States in 1944 at the San Francisco Opera Ballet under the direction of William Christensen.