Story ballets keep ballet companies afloat, ensuring more than a month of ticket sales and enabling experimental, less familiar work for the rest of the season.
We don’t think of George Balanchine as a sugarplum and snowflake choreographer, but "The Nutcracker" was a favorite since his Mouse King days in early 20th century St. Petersburg. The San Francisco Ballet gave the U.S. premiere of "The Nutcracker" in 1944, but it was Balanchine who realized in 1954 that he could fund New York City Ballet with a crowd-pleasing Christmas story, and companies worldwide have gratefully followed that scheme.
The central character, an adolescent girl, usually called Clara, delights in the toy nutcracker her magician godfather Drosselmeier gives her. The girl’s little brother breaks the toy, and Clara dreams all Christmas night about her nutcracker and dancing toys, animals and characters from around the world. Tchaikovsky’s glorious score provides the ballast, with music that greets you far outside the ballet stage throughout the holidays.
I wonder sometimes how people in retail stay sane, having to hear Nutcracker music throughout the holiday season. It’s one thing to hear the score all day for a month and quite another to dance the same ballet 43 times, not to mention the rehearsals, during the holiday season, so I asked the artists and staff of the Boston Ballet to finish this sentence: "To me, 'The Nutcracker' is ...
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' is like the movie 'Groundhog Day.' " — Roddy Doble, second soloist
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' shows that in the United States of America, a German children's story can become an American tradition. Diversity is beautiful." — Sabi Varga, soloist
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' ... serves as a first step for new ballet fans. They love seeing us as much as we love performing for them, and then they are hooked. They feel the peace and inspiration that can only come from a cultural artistic experience in its purest form." — Sarah Wroth, corps de ballet dancer, teacher
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' is an exhausting marathon." — Toni Geheb, senior public relations manager
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' is smiling faces, children's dream[s] imagined and the holidays, whether you want to deal with them or not. And that music, it's everywhere!" — Craig Margolis, production stage manager
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' is a chance to look into the history and meaning of Tchaikovsky’s musical work. And a chance for people who may not feel interested in ballet or classical music to see that there is something for everyone." — Alexander Maryianowski, corps de ballet dancer
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' rings in the holiday season and it is an amazing opportunity to see my dancers progressing and developing through each and every one of our 43 performances." — Mikko Nissinen, artistic director
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' will always remind me of how excited my little sister and I would get to dress up in our special purple “ballet capes” and see the professional production in the big city. It was the tradition that signaled Christmas was really here." — Chelsea Beatty, executive assistant
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' is December. After 43 consecutive shows, I can't imagine a December without a Nut." — Peter Stark, associate director of Boston Ballet II and head of Boston Ballet School Men’s Program
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' is a portal to my childhood and wonderful holiday memories of time spent with all of the women and men who reared an appreciation for dance and the theater in me. All of the different Nutcrackers in Boston and New York over the years -- with my dear mother Linda, my late great-gramma Rose, my godmother Auntie Kay. That music brings it all back. What little girl doesn’t want to be Clara?!" — Kay O’Dwyer, major gifts officer
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' requires my attention pretty much all year long. We’re almost always either planning for it or in performances. Although I’m constantly looking at it through the lens of business, I never tire of seeing the sheer joy it brings to our patrons. The magic in the theater is palpable." — Jennifer Weissman, chief marketing officer
"To me, 'The Nutcracker' is a love/hate relationship. ... I love the music, the sets and the costume. I love seeing the children dressed in their holiday best! I hate that I can’t take any vacation days off and sometimes work 12 - 15 hour days from Nov. 1 - Dec. 31." — John Fernandes, group sales manager
" 'The Nutcracker' reminds me of why I work here. Seeing the children in the performance getting to work with the professional company members, watching the families stream into the theater — many for the first time — you see the awe on their faces. It’s easy to forget when you hear Nutcracker music from August to January, but it really is magic for so many people." — Michaela Donnelly, web manager
This is the fifth season that the Boston Ballet’s 57 dancers, 13 Boston Ballet II dancers, and 224 Boston Ballet School students are performing Mikko Nissinen’s version of "The Nutcracker." The production continues at the Boston Opera House through New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31.