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Snowflakes waltzing in the original 1954 production of The Nutcracker; choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Alfred Eisenstadt

George Balanchine created The Nutcracker as an idyllic snowglobe ode to his St. Petersburg youth—but when the ballet made its world premiere at City Center, the atmosphere backstage was anything but idyllic. In 2007, Robert Sandla spoke with veterans of the first Nutcracker about the ballet’s hectic creation and its extraordinary survival. We’re delighted to reprint the article now, as New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker enjoys another holiday season. (A few relics from the 1954 premiere—including the Grandmother’s cape—still appear onstage.)

Americans didn’t know The Nutcracker in 1954. Or rather, what people knew was the Nutcracker Suite, a greatest-hits set of divertissements from the full-length Tchaikovsky ballet. Walt Disney put his marketing muscle behind it with Fantasia in 1940, and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo bourréed across America with various versions of the Suite in the 1940s. The first full-length professional Nutcracker in this country wasn’t presented until 1944, when Willam Christensen created one for San Francisco Ballet.

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December 16, 2016 by New York City Center
Balanchine with Cigarette

George Balanchine in April 1942, photographed by Joseph Janney Steinmetz.

This February, City Center has George Balanchine on the brain. First, the Balanchine-staged 1940 musical Cabin in the Sky will be revived by Encores! from February 10-14. Then, the acclaimed Pacific Northwest Ballet will present a program of three Balanchine masterpieces from February 24-25. Dance writer Marina Harss looks into the legendary choreographer’s evolution.

It is said that when the American art critic and impresario Lincoln Kirstein lured George Balanchine—born Giorgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in St. Petersburg—to America with the idea of founding a ballet company, the choreographer had one condition: “First, a school.” No sooner had he arrived in the US, in the fall of 1933, than he set about realizing this plan.

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January 22, 2016 by New York City Center