A Tale of Two "Nutcrackers": Staatsballett Berlin's 1892 Reconstruction Illuminates How Balanchine's Childhood "Nut" Influenced His Own
The Nutcracker has been a dancer’s tradition for over 125 years. As a student at Russia’s Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg in the early 1900s, a young George Balanchine performed in the original production of The Nutcracker, created in 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater. In fact, that production had a huge influence on his own version, choreographed in 1954 for the New York City Ballet—and now performed at Christmastime by companies across the nation and abroad.
In 2013, Russian choreographers Vasily Medvedev and Yuri Burlaka staged a revival of the original Mariinsky production for Staatsballett Berlin, based on the 1892 libretto by Marius Petipa, choreography by Lev Ivanov and original set and costume designs. Using a combination of Stepanov notations and early film recordings of Nikolas Sergeyev’s first stagings of the ballet in the West, Medvedev and Burlaka built a version of The Nutcracker. Though not a step-by-step reconstruction, their production transmits the original’s “unmistakable flair,” as they explain in the program notes. Pointe took a look at both the Berlin and New York productions to see how Balanchine’s childhood Nutcracker might have influenced his own. We found a lot of similarities—and a few key differences.
The Prince’s Pantomime
Kai Misra-Stone, as the Prince, reenacts his battle with the Mouse King in NYCB’s Nutcracker.Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB
Balanchine danced the role of the Prince himself in 1919, at 15 years old. So it’s no wonder that both versions include a pantomime in which the Prince tells the story of his battle against the Mouse King. Even though Balanchine’s prince is a young boy, while Medvedev/Burlaka’s is a principal dancer (adjusted from the original to dance the pas de deux with Clara later in the ballet), both versions use similar movements to tell the story: marching, lunging, waving an imaginary sword, and quick scurrying runs to depict the Mouse King.
Differing TempiLauren Lovette and artists of NYCB in Waltz of the Flowers Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
In many instances, tempi in Balanchine’s production are much faster. In Berlin, the doll dance, primarily a pas de deux between the Puppet Prince and Princess, is almost half the speed. The Snow Scene, along with the Coffee, Tea, and Flowers divertissements are all considerably quicker in New York. This is the place where Balanchine appears to have diverged most from his roots; his version of The Nutcracker reflects the swiftness of the American pace.