The story of the creation of the ballet The Nutcracker
In 1890, Tchaikovsky received an order from the Directorate of the Imperial Theaters for a one-act opera and a two-act ballet for staging in one evening. For opera, the composer chose the plot of the drama by the Danish writer Henrik Hertz, which he liked, King René's Daughter (Iolanthe), and for the ballet, the famous fairy tale by Ernst Theodor Hoffmann (1776-1822) “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” from the collection The Serapion Brothers (1819-1821). The fairy tale was used not in the original version, but in the French retelling made by Alexandre Dumas, the father under the title "The Story of a Nutcracker”. Tchaikovsky, according to the testimony of his brother Modest, first set out the plot of The Nutcracker according to Ivan Vsevolozhsky’s narration and only then began working together with choreographer Marius Petipa (1818–1910), who made a detailed order plan and choreography. The illustrious master, who had already served in Russia for more than forty years and staged many performances, gave Tchaikovsky the most detailed advice on the nature of music.
The composer's work was interrupted in the spring of 1891, when Tchaikovsky went to the United States for the grand opening of Carnegie Hall. He even composed onboard the ship, but realizing that he would not have time before the deadline set by the Directorate, he sent a letter to Ivan Vsevolozhsky from Paris asking him to postpone the premieres of Iolanta and The Nutcracker for the next season. Only after returning from a trip did work go more actively. During January and February 1892, Tchaikovsky completed and orchestrated the ballet. In March, in one of the symphony concerts of the Russian Musical Society, a suite from the ballet was performed under the direction of the composer. The success was raving: out of six numbers, five were repeated at the request of the public.
According to the script and detailed instructions from the seriously ill Petipa, the second choreographer of the Mariinsky Theater Lеv Ivanov (1834-1901) performed the production of The Nutcracker. Lev Ivanovich Ivanov, who graduated from the St. Petersburg Theater School in 1852, at that time was finishing his career as a dancer and for seven years worked as a choreographer. In addition to several ballets, he staged the Polovtsian dances in Prince Igor by Borodin and dances in the Rimsky-Korsakov opera-ballet Mlada. Vera Krasovskaya wrote, “Ivanov’s dance thinking did not rely on Tchaikovsky’s music, but lived according to its laws. <...> Ivanov, in some elements of his production, as if completely dissolving into music, from its innermost depths drew all calm, clean, even modest dance plastic”. “There is not a single rhythm in the music of The Nutcracker, not a single beat that would not be transformed into a dance,” Akim Volynsky noted. It was in music that the choreographer found the source of choreographic decisions. This was especially pronounced in the innovative, arranged for symphony orchestra, Snowflakes dance.
Rehearsals of the ballet began in late September 1892. The premiere took place on December 6 (18). The criticism was controversial - both positive and sharply negative. However, the ballet lasted in the repertoire of the Mariinsky Theater for more than thirty years. In 1923, the choreographer F. Lopukhov (1886-1973) restored the performance. In 1929, he created a new choreographic version of the play. In the original script, the ballet main female character was called Clara, but in the Soviet years, she was called Masha (Alexandre Dumas called her Marie). Later, different choreographers staged ballet performances at various Soviet theaters.