A Tale of Two Nutcrackers

Kimmie Rauscher and Gabby Brinez-Pardo

The tale of The Nutcracker is a classic Christmas story that many people recognize. As a matter of fact, the Mauldin Orchestra is performing its music on Wednesday, December 19th. From the iconic musical score to the beautiful dancers gliding across the stage, this ballet made the physical nutcracker into a treasured Christmas decoration.

Over hundreds of years, The Nutcracker has been a major icon for many Christmas related activities. At the mention of The Nutcracker, the general public will go ecstatic to the sound of the famous name. The history of the ballet demonstrates that The Nutcracker became popularized only when it was produced in America, as opposed to when it was originally produced in Russia. However, it wasn’t an immediate success like many have been led to believe.

According to the website Thought Co, the first production of The Nutcracker was performed in Russia on December 17, 1892. For the ballet, the musical score was based off of the original story called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” written by E.T.A. Hoffman. Tchaikovsky was chosen to collaborate with Marius Petipa to create this classic ballet composition. Petipa was the man behind the graceful, original choreography while Tchaikovsky composed the famous musical pieces we know and love today. When the ballet was officially performed for the first time, everyone in the theater, except Czar Alexander III, were appalled by the performance. Though the czar was ahead of his time, it took about another hundred years for the ballet to finally popularize.

When the ballet traveled across the seas, America recognized what Europe couldn’t. The 1954 American production was choreographed by George Balanchine. To assist this ballet, Balanchine changed up some of the characters, thus making it more intriguing to the audience. This change has made the ballet much more appealing to its modern day audiences.

In Balanchine’s definitive version of The Nutcracker, the story begins with the main character Clara and her family holding an extravagant Christmas party. During the party, there comes a mysterious cloaked man who turns out to be the little girls’ godfather. All the children who have attended the party get gifts including china dolls, bugles, and the best gift of all was Clara’s nutcracker from Godfather Drosselmeyer. Her younger brother (Fritz) gets jealous and they fight resulting in the nutcracker breaking. The party comes to an end and everyone is dismissed and they drift into a deep sleep. Clara comes back out of her room to check on her nutcracker and ends up falling asleep with the nutcracker in her arms. When she wakes up she realizes that everything is gigantic compared to herself. Suddenly, there is an army of mice and Clara sees that her own nutcracker has come to life. A fight, scene commences and now Clara and the nutcracker go off into a dream world. They come to the palace where everyone is jubilant and want to impress them by dancing for the iconic pair. Near the end of the dances, the famous sugar plum fairy concludes the ceremony and everyone says farewell to Clara and her prince. The two leave in a hot air balloon and Clara concludes the ballet by waking up in her house to a normal setting.

With the popularity of the ballet, no one really stops and thinks about how the physical nutcracker is involved in all of this. The wooden-carved soldiers, knights, and kings date all the way back to the 15th century. They are used by lifting a lever at the back of the figurine.

The tradition of handcrafting nutcrackers started with the “King of Nutcrackers,” Herr Christian Steinbach. He’s known for making some of the most famous nutcrackers to this day. Though he passed away in 2007, his daughter and granddaughter have continued on with his legacy.

Few fail to acknowledge the nutcracker has been used as a good luck symbol throughout history. According to German folklore, nutcrackers bring luck and protect homes. They are also said to symbolize power and strength as they scare evil spirits away. Today the nutcracker is typically used as decoration that has become increasingly popular due to The Nutcracker ballet.

From ballerinas to composers to the physical nutcracker itself, The Nutcracker has become such a key element to a traditional Christmas. Along with the tradition, it has brought so much more to the lives of the audience and even its performers. Student ballerina, Eliza Spilker said, “Even though our production at the Greenville ballet is not as extravagant as the New York Ballet, it’s amazing for me to be able to tell my children when I’m older that I played Clara in The Nutcracker.” Due to The Nutcracker’s popularity boom, both the ballet and the physical nutcrackers have become world-wide Christmas traditions that have been carried on for generations and will continue to stand the test of time.