How The Nutcracker Transformed Ballet in Cincinnati and Beyond

July 13th, 2023

The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets that has been staged over the years. Every season, kids and adults look forward to it as it has become a family tradition in many households. Although it’s often associated with the holidays, The Nutcracker stands on its own as an iconic ballet production. But how did it come to be? Who choreographed it? And how has it helped shape ballet into what it looks like today?

Join us on a wonderland adventure as we explore the history of The Nutcracker from George Balanchine’s influence, Frisch’s The Nutcracker, and its lasting impact on the Cincinnati community.

The Origins of The Nutcracker: Tracing Its Beginnings in Ballet History

The Nutcracker has a rich history that traces back to its origins in ballet history. Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker premiered in Russia in 1892. The ballet was based on the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” written by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Initially, The Nutcracker faced challenges and was not well-received, as people saw it as too challenging and bizarre. However, it survived the test of time and became a beloved production, thanks to various choreographers who took on the challenge of bringing the story to life.

Photo from the original Nutcracker ballet (1892), St. Petersburg, Russia –  Wikipedia

Evolving Choreography: How The Nutcracker Continues to Inspire New Interpretations

One of the most celebrated choreographers for The Nutcracker ballet is George Balanchine.  In 1954, Balanchine, in partnership with New York City Ballet, introduced The Nutcracker to an American audience. Balanchine’s version captured the whimsical elements of Tchaikovsky’s score while maintaining the grace and elegance of ballet. It was an instant success, and his interpretation became a benchmark for excellence. It has since become the gold standard to which other productions were compared.

Drawing on his childhood memories of a magnificent sweet store, Balanchine’s “Land of Sweets” set design captured the essence of enchantment and delight
| Photo: Martha Swope (1964)

The Nutcracker’s Cincinnati Debut: Pioneering Performances That Captivated Audiences

Cincinnati Ballet’s first production of The Nutcracker took place on December 18, 1974, marking a significant moment for both the city and the ballet. Under the artistic direction of David McLain, the goal was to create a production that embodied the essence of Cincinnati. To achieve this, stage designs were inspired by prominent Cincinnatians’ homes, and costumes were sourced from historic catalogs of local department stores.

Over the past four decades, the Cincinnati Ballet has continued to captivate audiences with its various renditions of The Nutcracker. From the awe-inspiring Nutcracker Tree and dancing poodles in the original 1974 production to the introduction of memorable characters like the giant ginger cat named Frau Kitzenkatzen in 1987; each version has brought something new and enchanting to the stage.

Mother Ginger, 1988, Cincinnati Ballet Records, US-12-07, Box 2, Folder 12

The Nutcracker’s Lasting Legacy: Its Influence on Cincinnati Ballet and Holiday Traditions

Since its inception, Cincinnati Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker, sponsored by Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant until 2017, has become a beloved tradition in the city. With over 100 cast members, 90 musicians, and an attendance of over 34,000 people per show, Cincinnati Ballet’s The Nutcracker performance offers a mesmerizing blend of music, dance, and storytelling that keeps audiences coming back year after year. The Nutcracker is more than just a performance; it’s a cherished Cincinnati holiday tradition. Families gather to enjoy this enchanting spectacle, making The Nutcracker a family-friendly event in Cincinnati that delights both young and old.

But did you know that The Nutcracker is not just a cherished holiday tradition for Cincinnati but also a significant source of funding for Cincinnati Ballet? This iconic production accounts for approximately fifty percent of the ballet’s annual ticket sales, making it essential in supporting the rest of its season. Interestingly, this trend is not unique to Cincinnati, as American ballet companies across the country often rely on The Nutcracker to generate a substantial portion of their yearly income. In fact, The Nutcracker enjoys even greater popularity in the U.S. than in its home country of Russia.

The Nutcracker 2022 (Katherine Ochoa and chandler proctor)
The Nutcracker 2022 (Katherine Ochoa and Chandler Proctor) | Photography: Hiromi Platt

Embracing the Magic and Wonder of The Nutcracker at Cincinnati Music Hall

The Nutcracker continues to be a timeless family tradition in Cincinnati, enchanting audiences of all ages with its delightful story, stunning performances, and magical atmosphere. Cincinnati Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker exemplifies this balance, respecting tradition while infusing a light and amusing touch that guarantees enjoyment for all. Regardless of its age, this ballet remains a captivating display of music and creativity, firmly ingrained in the cultural fabric of the American holiday experience.

As the curtain lifts at the historic Cincinnati Music Hall this December, let us continue the cherished Cincinnati tradition and embrace the enchanting magic of The Nutcracker. Join us in celebrating its transformative influence on ballet, Cincinnati, and the everlasting joy it brings to audiences year after year.

Nutcracker in July Sale 800 x 300

get ready for the nutcracker in july

Mark your calendars and get ready Cincinnati! The Nutcracker in July is about to sprinkle its enchantment and unveil an extraordinary SALE that will make your heart leap with excitement!

Stay tuned for more details as we prepare to transport you to a world of dreams and wonder. This is one holiday celebration you won’t want to miss!

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