This month’s edition of Vanity Fair magazine has a wonderful article in it about the history of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker which has inspired all of the presentations seen every Christmas at theatre and on television everywhere. There are a lot of other great articles in this edition, but this article by Laura Jacobs, with an amazing spread of photographs by Henry Leutwyler, was fast-paced and riveting.
Titled, “Balanchine’s Christmas Miracle”, the story begins with Jacques d’Amboise‘s journal entry of Dec. 11, 1964 about the New York City Ballet’s first production at the new Lincoln Centre:
Kaarinska’s costumes — Rouben’s set — production a tremendous triumph. Mrs. Kennedy and John John and Caroline there . . . Balanchine after said it was the best dancing I had done.
The year 1964 was huge for the NYCB and for Balanchine and his partner Lincoln Kirstein (one of the monument men); their ballet, founded 16 years earlier, was given almost $6M by the Ford Foundation, and, along with their new venue in the New York State Theatre, meant that Balanchine was finally able to create the kind of sets he wanted, the kind he had danced with in Russia, the kind that could allow for an eighteen-foot tall Christmas tree that would grow right out of the stage to a height of 41 feet. For Balanchine, Christmas is “all about the tree”, which is thought of as “a high-maintenance ballerina”.
The article goes on to explain how it’s done, what it cost, and what it means to the production; how the sets weren’t the only things that had to be bigger: the dancing — larger, the music — louder, the costumes — grander; everything, right down to the faces on the mice had to be re-thought. By the time I finished the article, I had to watch the ballet. I’ve never seen it. I had bought a DVD of it for a Christmas present. The plan was to watch it first, then give it away. It didn’t happen. The first part, that is. However, I found a video online of the 1993 NYCB production at this link. Absolutely inspirational! Amazing to watch it knowing the background. Thanks, Vanity Fair.
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