Fun Facts About the Legendary Russian Ballet: The Nutcracker

You must have heard about Nutcracker, haven’t you?

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The Nutcracker is a famous Russian ballet, originally choreographed by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa. It is inspired with a story written by German writer E.T.A. Hoffman, called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.


Although the Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets today, its first steps aren’t as successful. It was premiered together with Iolanta, a famous Tchaikovsky’s opera. The debut was held at the Imperial Marinski Theater in St. Petersburg in 1982. The critics mostly responded badly, and they didn’t believe the ballet will have a very bright future. The negative critics mainly were a result of the large cast of children in the dance (more than 20). Only ballets mostly featuring adult dancers were taken seriously at the time. Thus, both critic and most of the public accused The Nutcracker of being “a performance from children for children.” They described the ballet as amateurish, foolish and plain boring.

It gained success in the 20th century.

The Nutcracker was a late bloomer. It arrived in the US in 1944, more than 50 years after the initial debut. However, the public abroad loved the performance, and it quickly became prevalent. Soon enough, Russians also changed their minds, and The Nutcracker finally got the receipt It deserved. It was performed over 500 times in the Bolshoi Theater. Between all of these performances, the one in 1966 is thought to be the gold standard of this ballet.

Russian-American choreographer, George Balanchine is credited for the sudden success of The Nutcracker in this period.

There were more than 100 costumes in the original performance.

The original rendition of The Nutcracker was very complex. They used around 150 different costumes. Toy soldiers, fairies, mice and snowflakes all had to be clothed in addition to the leading roles. Therefore, the original ballet had more than 50 workers backstage, who had to make sure all the costumes were prepared and taken care of properly.

Tchaikovsky wasn’t proud of his work for The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker was composed by the brilliant Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Many believe the music for this ballet is one of the best pieces of music he ever created. However, he disagreed. He thought that his composition the Sleeping Beauty that he’s done for another famed Russian ballet was his real masterpiece. Unfortunately, he died only a year after the first production of The Nutcracker, so he didn’t get to see the impact that his work had on both the audience and the future development of ballet.


Tchaikovsky wanted the song   “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” to have a unique sound. Thus he smuggled celesta from Paris to Russia and played it at the first premiere. Celesta is relatively similar to a piano, with much smaller keys and cabinet.

The name of the heroine was changed many times.

In the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann the heroine’s name is Marie. In some parts of Germany, they also called her Marichen, while the Russians named her Masha. Clara, the name we mostly know her by today, was the name of her doll in the story.

Modern  adaptations

The Nutcracker inspired many directors and producers, but their films have little to do with the original ballet. They mostly only used excerpts of Tchaikovsky’s music, while almost completely ignoring the story. Some of them are Fantasia (1940), The Nutcracker (1973), The Nutcracker Prince (1990) and  Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale.

Furthermore, many TV shows and Video games also used the music from Nutcracker, as well as some characters, such as the Mouse King. Some of the video games that used the Tchaikovsky’s compositions are Game Boy version of Tetris and GTA V.

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