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One of the keys to success of the Nutcracker Ballet in America is its ability to please the general public. The Nutcracker satisfies the mainstream audience with its beautiful sets and costumes. However, it still keeps dance enthusiasts happy with it’s wonderful choreography and breathtaking dancing. Truly, the ballet has something for everyone to enjoy including music lover’s who come for the famous Nutcracker Suite score.
George Balanchine’s chose to adapt the ballet to suit the times and audience for the 1954 production of The Nutcracker. Adapting it to the times helped the production succeed. As a result, other companies adapted the ballet again to suit their own audiences and environment. This adaptability of The Nutcracker is one of its greatest assets and helped it spread across America.
Ballet companies felt free to perform their own versions of the ballet and chose to add in local features. Consequently, this endeared it to local audiences. For example, Hawaiian performances added in hula dancing. Arizona performances added in cowboys. Mark Morris produced a version set it in the swinging 60’s while Donald Byrd produced one set in Harlem. Once local audiences made a connection to the ballet, The Nutcracker was able to find success nationwide. Donald Byrd’s production led to a rise in popularity of The Nutcracker among African American communities and producers. This paved the way for many other versions including Debbie Allen’s fantastic version “Hot Chocolate”.
There have been reggae versions, hip-hop versions and salsa versions contributing to the sense that The Nutcracker is for everyone. This mainstream appeal is one of the keys to success for The Nutcracker. Incredibly, The Nutcracker has been adapted so much that there actually isn’t enough documentation to reproduce the original anymore. Although there are many different versions of The Nutcracker today, they are all similar in many ways. All the versions focus on the holiday and family gathering which makes it an ideal choice for a Christmas performance.
The variety of roles for children is another endearing feature of The Nutcracker which contributed to its success in America. This was seen as a drawback to its original audience in 1892 Russia. However, it became seen as an asset in 20th century America. The many parts for young performers guarantee parents and relatives interest in seeing the production which in turn, guarantees an audience. Performing the ballet over the holidays when families are already gathering and looking to spend time together often means a packed house for as many performances as the company chooses to put on.
“When your kid’s in the show, you’ve gotta see it—and you probably have to reserve tickets for the whole extended family, too. That means whether you have a young star or just a young audience member, if you’re only going to see one ballet per year, it will probably be The Nutcracker. (time)
The variety of roles also gave children the ability and desire to move up in the roles they performed. There were fun roles for young ballerinas to beautiful dances for the older and more skillful performers. The little girls who started as children in the party aspired to be snowflake dancers. The older snowflake dancers aspired to become the sugar plum fairy. The ability for young dancers to grow into the harder roles gave them a reason to come back the next year. When the children come back, the parents and friends come back to see the performance again. This is one of the big keys to the success of The Nutcracker in America.
The multitude of characters for children to play made it an ideal production for any ballet company to perform. The roles for children would guarantee it an audience. Balanchine’s original production included 35 parts for children. The roles for young performers in The Nutcracker brought countless American families into contact with the ballet world for the first time. It also provided the desire or the necessity for these families to become paying audience members year after year. According to Fisher, the roles for children “guarantee that a sizable number of friends and relatives will have a personal stake in the ballet each year” (Fisher). In other words, the roles for children directly lead to the economic success of The Nutcracker in America.
The Balanchine version of The Nutcracker was aired on television in 1957 and 1958 and it became widely known and loved in America. The ability to adapt the ballet to appeal and entertain local audiences and the use of many roles for children to guarantee a packed and supportive house made The Nutcracker a successful choice for many ballet companies. Performing it during the Christmas season ensured families were together and could come support their cast member in large numbers. It also encouraged audience members to buy gifts for the gift giving season. With the many styles of eye-catching nutcracker designs, beautiful snow globes and other clever gift options, ballet companies were able to set up boutiques and fundraisers at performances and generate needed sales for the holiday season.
The combination of a full audience and the ability to sell Nutcracker related gifts turned the ballet into an almost guaranteed economic boon for any ballet company. The Nutcracker became the big revenue generator and often paid the bills for the rest of the year for many ballet companies. Today, more than half the performances worldwide of The Nutcracker will be in America. It has truly become part of American culture. “Nothing breeds success like a happy marriage between a major holiday and an appropriate performance…The Nutcracker became an annual moneymaker that subsidized the art form” (Fisher). The Nutcracker found success and a new home in America.
Read more in The History of The Nutcracker part three.
Learn more in The History of The Nutcracker part one.