Today we are celebrating the classic holiday-themed ballet that originally premiered one week prior to Christmas Day exactly 120 years ago, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's THE NUTCRACKER. The ideal respite from the holiday rush, Fathom Events will be presenting the all new 3D film presentation of Tchaikovsky's THE NUTCRACKER on December 3, starring members of the very ballet company of the theater in which the fantastical family-friendly fable first debuted in 1892, the landmark Russian Imperial Mariinsky Theatre.
While far from unanimously well-regarded upon its somewhat stormy premiere, Tchaikovsky's THE NUTCRACKER has become one of the most beloved and ubiquitous ballets produced in the last fifty years, following its brilliant resurgence and re-appreciation beginning in the 1950s. Based on "The Nutcracker And The Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Tchaikovsky utilized the Alexandre Dumas adaptation of the children's short story concerning itself with a girl's journey through a dazzling fantasy land in search of a toy, titled THE TALE OF THE NUTCRACKER. Re-teaming with his visionary collaborator on THE SLEEPING BEAUTY from two years before, Marius Petipa, Tchaikovsky had a more difficult time of his compositional process while working on THE NUTCRACKER, due in no small part to the fact that he was also composing an opera to premiere as part of the double-bill, which would eventually become IOLANTA. Additionally, Petipa was incredibly strict in setting out the parameters of the piece to his musical compatriot - down to the number of bars and even tempi, in many cases - which Tchaikovsky found understandably frustrating and limiting, but which evidently would foster the foundation for many of his most memorable and long-lasting melodies. Despite the final result having great resonance for modern audiences, the original premiere was plagued with production problems - none the least of which being Pepita himself falling ill during preparatory rehearsals and choreographic reigns going to his assistant, Lev Ivanov, though who precisely staged what is still debated and discussed to this day by ballet buffs. While Tchaikovsky's score was praised for its lushness and epic scope, many critics found the piece less than successful overall in its first production, lobbing cruel pans to many of the lead performers and bemoaning the unusual framing device ("Insipid," to wit, included) suggested by the source material - to say nothing of the general distaste expressed for the use of actual children onstage, an anamoly for the period; an interesting and revealing insight into theatre history in itself, particularly given the preponderance of pre-pubescence on Broadway these days, such as in ANNIE, A CHRISTMAS STORY and MATILDA, to cite but a few examples of family-friendly fare.
Yet, the all-too-magical, unmistakable allure and persuasive power of the winsome Sugar Plum Fairy, the terrifying Mouse King, the good-hearted Clara (Masha in the original) and the eponymous wooden soldier himself have bolstered the reputation of the initially misunderstood ballet since its inception and initial reception well over a century ago. While the first production of the piece in the United States was not until 1944, unbelievably, it was not until ten years later, when iconic director George Balanchine created his production of it for the New York City Ballet, where it has been presented annually ever since, that the ballet reached major prominence on these shores. Since the 1960s, THE NUTCRACKER has been more popular than in any other segment of history and many of the world's most artistically daring and critically revered directors of last century and this century have adapted it or taken it on fully - among them, Yuri Grigorovich for the Bolshoi Ballet, Peter Wright for the Royal Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov for the American Ballet Theater and SWAN LAKE 3D director and InDepth InterView participant Matthew Bourne (available here) himself.
Comprised of both a real world framing device and a far-out fantasyland ala THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE NUTCRACKER has more magic per minute than many - dare I say any - other holiday entertainments available and no Christmas is truly complete without a trip to the Land Of Sweets and a view or two of the one and only Sugar Plum Fairy - plus, the titular toy. Indeed, 1892 or 2012, great art remains great - so don't miss a truly eye-popping and all-too-enveloping 21st century take on the tale with the Fathom 3D presentation of the elegant and spectacular new Mariinsky Theatre mounting on December 3, the first stage iteration of it to be filmed in 3D. It's a mouse-see.
More information on Tchaikovsky's THE NUTCRACKER on December 3 is available here.
The Nutcracker Suite
Duke Ellington, FANTASIA and Monty Python's The Flying Circus to Barbie, The Smurfs, THE SIMPSONS, Beavis and Butthead and beyond, the massive, truly incalculable influence that the themes, images, story, and, most importantly, the music of Tchaikovsky's THE NUTCRACKER have had on pop culture and society at large can be felt to this day in that handful of examples and many, many more. Look no further than your local theater listings for a live performance in your area, as well, since surely one exists not too far away - or, better yet, catch the Fathom 3D presentation on December 3. THE NUTCRACKER lives on and on, as is especially evident at holiday time, and remains a major part of the popular entertainment pantheon and lexicon, a fact which will surely continue for the forseeable future at this rate.
So, let's take a look at some of the most iconic moments from some past productions of THE NUTCRACKER as well as shine a light on some of the ways in which the inspiring and beautifully honed story of a girl's search for something lost has given us so much happiness and joy, whether or not we may actually be aware of its influence on our lives, and found a special place in all of our hearts. Masterpieces like this have a way of lingering in the memory - and heart.
First up, here is the trailer for Fathom's special one-day-only presentation of Tchaikovsky's THE NUTCRACKER in select theaters nationwide on December 3.
Get some background on the people presenting THE NUTCRACKER next week - now, first, and, seemingly, always - the Russian Imperial Mariinsky Ballet, with this fascinating documentary detailing their history and astounding legacy as a premiere world dance institution.
Also, enjoy this vintage production of THE NUTCRACKER recorded at the Mariinsky Theatre, where it originally premiered in 1892.
Now, let us take a look back at some of the most famous stagings of the ballet, starting with dance icon Mikhail Baryshnikov's production of THE NUTCRACKER, available to view in full.
Next, here is a complete performance capture of Peter Wright's production of THE NUTCRACKER, conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov as presented at the BBC Royal Opera House.
Prima Ballerina Wendy Whelan performs the "Arabian Dance" from THE NUTCRACKER in this clip featuring George Balanchine's original choreography for the New York City Ballet premiere.
Additionally, sample the Hong Kong Ballet's striking take on THE NUTCRACKER.
The Kirov Ballet stages Tchaikovsky and Petipa's forerunner to THE NUTCRACKER, the audacious and sweeping SLEEPING BEAUTY, in this 1989 filmed performance of the ballet.
Check out the trailer for Emile Ardolino's 1993 film adaptation of THE NUTCRACKER, utilizing Balanchine's original choreography and concept, starring Macaulay Culkin.
Following that, catch a peek of the most recent film version of the timeless story in the form of THE NUTCRACKER 3D, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky and featuring Nathan Lane.
Changing up the pace a bit with a few fun entries, enjoy the legendary NUTCRACKER sequence from Disney's remarkable animation accomplishment for the ages, FANTASIA.
Here, Barbie gets into the spirit of the season - and even attempts a little en pointe action- with her first feature film, BARBIE IN THE NUTCRACKER MOVIE.
An MTV staple throughout the late-90s, enjoy this minute-long placard featuring roguish cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead being themselves as only they can. Ozzy-ish, man!
Take a listen to Tchaikovsky done by none other than the cast of THE SIMPSONS with this hilarious and expectedly daffy holiday ditty.
Certainly more than a mere curiosity for Disney fans, enjoy this rarely seen 1991 TV special, MICKEY'S NUTCRACKER CHRISTMAS.
Duke Ellington jazzes up THE NUTCRACKER with this swingin', Goddard Lieberson-produced adaptation of Tchaikovsky's ballet. They discuss the unique and unprecedented project in this illuminating interview.
"Arabesque Cookie" is Ellington's iteration of Tchaikovsky's NUTCRACKER "Arabian Dance". Hear it in its full glory below.
The Smurfs sing along to the bouncy jubilance of Tchaikovsky's NUTCRACKER score in this SMURFBERRY CRUNCH cereal commercial from 1982.
As a special bonus: "I am the Mouse King!" The wacky group of players making up Monty Python's Flying Circus pay homage to THE NUTCRACKER in the classic and guffaw-inducing "Hospital For Overacting" skit.
So, what production of THE NUTCRACKER above most appeals to your romantic sensibilities? What take on the classic story do you enjoy more than any other and why? Furthermore, are you ready to unwrap an early holiday gift byway of Fathom's presentation on Monday and see if you have found a new favorite take on the classic tale? With such a rich legacy and iconic music, THE NUTCRACKER is sure to be around for many more holiday seasons to come, so make 2012 your first exposure to its myriad charms or the first of many, many more.