The Brilliance of George Balanchine and the Creation of the New York City Ballet
Greatness is a God given gift: Greatness surpasses time and space and creates a lasting gift to mankind. George Balanchine’s gift still lives on today as the dancers grace the stage of The New York City Ballet.
Season after season, the curtain rises on dancers that never knew Balanchine, but somehow his magic lives on in each and every one of them. Greatness cannot be taught, it cannot be destroyed and its special gifting is eternal. Grand masters like Balanchine become historical icons of creation as the dance world has forever been altered by his presence and talent. Every dancer in the world has been affected by his influence. Balanchine’s stunning mastery of dance awed audiences for decades and continues to do so today in the current production of The Nutcracker at The NYC Ballet.
This amazing company was Balanchine’s creation and both have cascaded through history leaving their mark on every dancer and audience in the world. Balanchine has forever influenced the artistic and technical performance of dance through his thrilling choreography that will live on in the hearts of dancers around the world. George Balanchine took what had been called ‘the art of czars’ and revolutionized it into a fresh style of dance- an approach that defied conventions of the classical choreography. Balanchine found classical dance to be stale and inauthentic. He pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable artistically, theatrically and stylistically and conceived what we know as modern ballet by infusing the art of classical dance with modern dance. He created ballets inspired by his dancers’ human complexities. He advanced beyond technique and exposed the unique quirks and talents of his ballerinas while at the same time proving his undeniable strength, vision, and talent as a choreographer. He was a visionary to the international ballet industry and had a tremendous influence on dress, movement, and technique. He has created over 400 dance works, including Orpheus, Agon, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Vienna Waltzes and countless others. There was only one Balanchine and there is only one Balanchine Nutcracker, which is being performed this holiday season at NYCB.
His amazing choreography and production of the Nutcracker are everlasting examples of his timeless presentation of this amazing story. Please join TTW as we take you on a journey that transcends space and time. We proudly and with great respect present The Nutcracker by George Balanchine. In 1816, E.T.A. Hoffman published The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, a scary fairy-tale intended only for adults. Years later, Alexander Dumas père’s version of the story made it happier and more appropriate for children to read. Marius Petipa, chief ballet master of the Russian Imperial Ballet, liked this new story and decided to have it made into a ballet. He commissioned Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky to write the music. Petipa’s assistant Lev Ivanov created the choreography and the production was first performed in December 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia. George Balanchine, who grew up in Russia, danced the role of the Prince in The Nutcracker in 1919 when he was just 15 years old. Later, after he had moved to America and founded the New York City Ballet, he decided to choreograph his own version of The Nutcracker for his company.
The first performance of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ was given by the New York City Ballet in February 1954. Children and adults of all ages are captivated by the lure of Tschaikovsky’s music, Balanchine’s choreography, Karinska’s sumptuous costumes, and Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s magical sets. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ version demands a full-scale production. The elaborate stage elements and intricate lighting unleash the viewers’ imagination by providing visual effects that are extraordinarily grand. The most famous example is the Christmas tree that grows from a height of 12 feet to 40 feet, evoking audible gasps of disbelief from the audience at each performance. Other notable feats include the comic figure of Mother Ginger, as well as the continuous flutter of the crystal-shaped snowflakes.
From the moment the lights dim, you are transported to a wondrous world of magic and wonder. A rousing snowstorm sends a blizzard of ballerinas across the stage, sweeping you to exotic locales in the enchanting Land of Sweets. Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times boasted “…as I marveled anew at its (George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”) sheer mastery of stagecraft… The first falling flakes are already a pleasure, but the breathtaking way these snows later fall more thickly is like nothing else in theater. As a blizzard whirls above, 16 Snowflakes dance on below, and at times they themselves are the heart of the storm.”
While these technical achievements are wonderful fun, it is Balanchine’s choreography that sustains the ballet through two acts. Act I introduces the characters–the Stahlbaum children, Marie and Fritz, Herr Drosselmeier and his Nephew–and also begins the transition from reality into fantasy with the concluding Snowflake Waltz. Act II offers the complete transformation. We have entered the Kingdom of the Sugarplum Fairy and there is no turning back.
Innocence is preserved as youthful imagination and fantasy along side a child-like sense of discovery are reclaimed as Balanchine’s production of The Nutcracker takes us to a time when we are children again. Throughout this production, in many of its characters, we are given a sense of Balanchine as a child. Knowing that Balanchine was parted from his mother early in his childhood reflects new emotion on characters like Frau Stahlbaum and the relationship and interaction with her children Marie and Fritz. Even in Balanchine’s decision to add interlude music from another of Tchaikovsky’s works, “The Sleeping Beauty”, you capture that true feeling of “heart” when gazing up at a mother’s affection and fear for her sleeping child. The Balanchine version uses perhaps more real children than any other version as well. Because Marie and the Nutcracker Prince are played by children approximately ten years old in the Balanchine Nutcracker, no adult romantic interest between them is even implied, yet somehow Balanchine’s version proves closer to the original 1892 conception than almost any other. Throughout this amazing work we hear parts of Tchaikovsky’s score that are so familiar, yet we sit in awe, again returned to the natural sense of innocence, as if it is the first time we have encountered them.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ is often cited as the production that brought ballet to the United States, and as one of the most complex theatrical staged ballets in the Company’s active repertory it will continue to provide immense popularity to the art of ballet and an unforgettable spark to everyone’s holiday season. As your eyes begin to gaze at the great stage of The NY City Ballet, you will see art imitate life as fantasy becomes reality. Your senses will be transported to a new dimension of creativity that will forever transform your perception of dance. It has been TTW’s great honor to proudly present the history of the nutcracker by George Balanchine.