Historians comment that Tchaikovsky did not particularly enjoy working on the score for what would become his last ballet, The Nutcracker. He accepted a commission from Imperial Theatre to deliver two projects and one of them would reunite him with choreographer Marius Petipa. The two had made a hit two years earlier with The Sleeping Beauty, but neither the plot nor the challenge of The Nutcracker deeply pleased him. Interestingly enough, 130 years later, it is the praised music of the ballet that is one of his best-known and most loved compositions, a sort of worldwide soundtrack for Christmas parties.
The Nutcracker is also a nostalgic work for dancers and the main financial source in an arid universe of resources such as Dance. Just to give you an idea, it is estimated that ticket sales for The New York City Ballet’s traditional production represent at least 45% of the company’s annual profit. This amount is higher for smaller or semi-professional companies, making The Nutcracker one of the most important works of classical ballet. The pandemic, for example, which prevented live performance and interrupted the tradition of more than 66 years, represented a loss of more than 70% for the company in 2020. Without the artistic prestige of other works, the Christmas ballet guarantees its importance for this source of profit.
It all started when the director of the Imperial Theater of Russia, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, selected the theme to be working on at the end of the year: the adaptation of the story by E. T. A. Hoffmann. The ballet premiered in St. Petersburg on December 6, 1892, at the request of Tsar Alexander III, who was present in the audience. The music was an immediate hit, the choreography more or less. The plot was ultra-simplified to be able to be told in two years (and a prologue), retelling the story of Clara (or Marie, in Russia), a little girl who gets a toy nutcracker and in her dreams she saves it from the attack. of the Rat King. The Nutcracker then transforms into a handsome prince who takes her to the sugar land. The next morning, she wakes up alone in the living room, happy about the magical Christmas night.
In the ballet’s revival a few years later, Clara’s age was changed so that she could be danced from the beginning by the principal dancer of the evening and not just at the end, as in the original performance. One of those who returned to the 1892 concept was George Balanchine, whose 1954 version for the New York City Ballet is still one of the main Christmas events in Manhattan. This version was also filmed twice, once in 1993, with Macaulay Culkin in the title role.
But it is as a business that The Nutcracker retains its importance even 130 years later. Gradually it became a lucrative piece of marketing because it allows companies to apply their brands to events and related products that generate extra revenue. Ornaments, soaps, Santas, soldiers, and – of course – the Nutcracker. There are partnerships with the New York City Ballet and various stores, from Tiffany’s to toy stores, and it is estimated that the “ancillary businesses” can raise over $200,000 extra. Adding up to more than $2 million at the box office for the season starting in December, that’s enough to sustain the entire cast throughout the year. It is not for nothing that The Nutcracker is pointed out as the great cash cow of classical dance, whose genius is for being associated with children. That’s right, because of the children’s story, the ballet has many prominent roles made for children, who like to participate and also move the purchase of products. A winning equation.