Growing up, almost every year during the holidays I’d find myself getting dressed up in velvet and fur to attend Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker in Seattle. The crisp, wet air in the city mixed with an upbeat excitement of the season always made me enjoy the show’s quintessential Christmas spirit.
Nutcrackers themselves were used as far back as the third century B.C.E. but the toy soldier nutcracker we’re all familiar with didn’t surface until around late 17th century Germany. Germans believed they were symbols of good luck and scared away bad spirits from the home as they bared their teeth to crack nuts. In time, the concept of a nutcracker coming to life appeared in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Gothic short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” later adapted by Alexandre Dumas called “The Story of the Nutcracker.”
One of the most captivating aspect of The Nutcracker, for me, is that it’s so quintessentially Christmas but there’s no theology to it (peace out, baby Jesus).
Instead, it focuses on the the magic and wonder children possess during the holiday, family traditions and love. The story follows a young girl who falls asleep Christmas Eve, then wakes up to a dreamy world where her toys come to life — including the nutcracker soldier, evil Mouse King and his badass army, and the epitome of a prima ballerina: the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The very first performance of The Nutcracker two-act fairyballet premiered one week before Christmas in 1892 St. Petersburg, Russia. The production wasn’t an immediate success, except for the music. The composition by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky stole the show, of course, and the entire score is a beautiful standalone piece of work even today. The first performance in America was in San Francisco in 1944 and by the late 1960s, it was extremely popular.
In fact, it is so lucrative that ticket revenue generated during the show can garner as much as 40% of a ballet company’s annual income! According to the New York Times, a holiday run of The Nutcracker is sometimes the financial foundation of an American dance company.
The music is captivating, the snow sparkles, the dancers wow – and the giant Christmas tree is downright magical. If you’re interested in escaping our world for a few hours this holiday, I recommend seeing the The Nutcracker.
Tickets to American Ballet Theater’s performance at the Segerstrom Hall can be found here.