CULTURE & ARTS

A Visual History Of 'The Nutcracker' In 100 Photos

'Tis the season.

"The Nutcracker" might be a family favorite today, but back in the 1890s, the uber-famous ballet was a critical flop.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky premiered his now internationally beloved ballet "The Nutcracker" in 1892. Choreographed by Marius Petipa and his assistant Lev Ivanov, audiences in St. Petersburg, Russia, were not particularly taken with the performance, which was loosely based on the dark E.T.A. Hoffmann story, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."

Critics enjoyed the composition, but found the ballet and costumery itself to be lackluster. In reviews, writers singled out the Sugar Plum Fairy, harshly describing the dancer Antonietta Dell'Era as "pudgy." All in all, it was not a success. And Tchaikovsky himself never saw the ballet gain in popularity.

Skip forward a century and a quarter, and "The Nutcracker" is by and large the most beloved ballet of the holiday season. It's performed around the world as a staple of Christmas ritual, thanks almost entirely to a 20th century choreographer by the name of George Balanchine. He first staged the ballet in 1954, two decades after its debut in the United States, and his adaptation became a hit in New York City.

"The first of his five full-length ballets, this was the Nutcracker that launched the hundreds of Nutcracker ballets that now dominate America’s Decembers," Laura Jacobs writes in Vanity Fair.

Henceforth, Clara and Herr Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy -- they became just as important a part of the winter pantheon as Frosty, the Grinch and Rudolph. In celebration of Nutcracker season, we went through the photographic archives to showcase a collection of vintage ballet snapshots. Behold, a visual history of "The Nutcracker" in 100 photos:

  • 1900s
    A photo of the National Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" in the early 1900s.
    Reg Innell via Getty Images
    A photo of the National Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" in the early 1900s.
  • A photo of the National Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" in the early 1900s.
    Reg Innell via Getty Images
    A photo of the National Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" in the early 1900s.
  • A photo of the National Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" in the early 1900s.
    Barry W Gray via Getty Images
    A photo of the National Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" in the early 1900s.
  • 1930s
    Marcia Haydee and Egon Madsen in the "The Nutcracker" in 1937.
    ullstein bild via Getty Images
    Marcia Haydee and Egon Madsen in the "The Nutcracker" in 1937.
  • 1940s
    Dancers Sonia Woicikowska and Arnold Picon in an ad for "The Nutcracker" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1943.
    Constance Bannister Corp via Getty Images
    Dancers Sonia Woicikowska and Arnold Picon in an ad for "The Nutcracker" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1943.
  • 1950s
    British ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn in Milan for a production of "The Nutcracker" at La Scala in 1957.
    Enzo Graffeo via Getty Images
    British ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn in Milan for a production of "The Nutcracker" at La Scala in 1957.
  • 1960s
    Twelve-year-old "Nutcracker" performer Suzanne Cullingford keeps one hand on her ballet slippers during a nap at the Royal Fe
    Peter Hall via Getty Images
    Twelve-year-old "Nutcracker" performer Suzanne Cullingford keeps one hand on her ballet slippers during a nap at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1961.
  • Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev dances with Rosella Hightower during a dress rehearsal at the B.B.C. television studios
    AFP via Getty Images
    Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev dances with Rosella Hightower during a dress rehearsal at the B.B.C. television studios in London in 1962.
  • Heater Moore goes through a dance routine as Clara in "The Nutcracker" in 1962.
    John Beard via Getty Images
    Heater Moore goes through a dance routine as Clara in "The Nutcracker" in 1962.
  • Pictures of costume designs for the opening of "The Nutcracker" at the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto in 1964.
    Frank Lennon via Getty Images
    Pictures of costume designs for the opening of "The Nutcracker" at the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto in 1964.
  • Charlie Putman and Jiji Jahrig appear as the Snow King and Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker Ballet" in 1966.
    Duane Howell via Getty Images
    Charlie Putman and Jiji Jahrig appear as the Snow King and Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker Ballet" in 1966.
  • A real-life Nutcracker Prince (Jeremy Blanton) and his Snow Queen (Veronica Tennant) give the Christmas season a fairytale fl
    Frank Lennon via Getty Images
    A real-life Nutcracker Prince (Jeremy Blanton) and his Snow Queen (Veronica Tennant) give the Christmas season a fairytale flourishas they sign autographs for youngsters in the opening day audience at O'Keefe Centre after National Ballet's annual Christmas presentation of "The Nutcracker" in 1967.
  • Dancers Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell of the Royal Ballet perform in "The Nutcracker" in 1968.
    David Cairns via Getty Images
    Dancers Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell of the Royal Ballet perform in "The Nutcracker" in 1968.
  • 1970s
    Dancer Richard Denny displays the "up-up-and-away" style needed to dance the lead role of the Snow Prince in the Colorado Con
    Steve Larson via Getty Images
    Dancer Richard Denny displays the "up-up-and-away" style needed to dance the lead role of the Snow Prince in the Colorado Concert Ballet's "The Nutcracker" in 1970.
  • Ekaterina Maximova, Vladimir Levashov and Vladimir Vasiliev (Bolshoi Theatre Artistic Director in 1990s) in the Bolshoi Balle
    Erich Auerbach via Getty Images
    Ekaterina Maximova, Vladimir Levashov and Vladimir Vasiliev (Bolshoi Theatre Artistic Director in 1990s) in the Bolshoi Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" in 1970.
  • A ballerina dressed as doll in a "Nutcracker" production in 1971.
    John G. White via Getty Images
    A ballerina dressed as doll in a "Nutcracker" production in 1971.
  • Hockey player Jacques Plantemade made a guest appearance as a stretcher bearer in the National Ballet's production of "The Nu
    Ron Bull via Getty Images
    Hockey player Jacques Plantemade made a guest appearance as a stretcher bearer in the National Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" in 1971.
  • Nadia Potts, dancer in "The Nutcracker" at the O'Keefe Centre, with sugar plums, in 1972.
    Reg Innell via Getty Images
    Nadia Potts, dancer in "The Nutcracker" at the O'Keefe Centre, with sugar plums, in 1972.
  • Dancers in the National Ballet's cast for the traditional Christmas performances of "The Nutcracker" at the O'Keefe Centre in
    Reg Innell via Getty Images
    Dancers in the National Ballet's cast for the traditional Christmas performances of "The Nutcracker" at the O'Keefe Centre in 1973.
  • The National Ballet of Canada's "The Nutcracker" in 1975.
    Reg Innell via Getty Images
    The National Ballet of Canada's "The Nutcracker" in 1975.
  • "The Nutcracker" performed by Canada's National Ballet.
    Doug Griffin via Getty Images
    "The Nutcracker" performed by Canada's National Ballet.
  • Russian-born American dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov (as the Nutcracker Prince) fights the Mouse King during a performance of the
    Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images via Getty Images
    Russian-born American dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov (as the Nutcracker Prince) fights the Mouse King during a performance of the American Ballet Theatre's production of Baryshnikov's version of "The Nutcracker" in 1977.
  • Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov is seen in the title role in the ballet "The Nutcracker," during dress rehearsals in New York in 1
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov is seen in the title role in the ballet "The Nutcracker," during dress rehearsals in New York in 1977. 
  • Dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov, right, and Marianna Tcherkassky are shown during dress rehearsal for the American Ballet Theatre
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov, right, and Marianna Tcherkassky are shown during dress rehearsal for the American Ballet Theatre's "The Nutcracker," in New York, May 17, 1977.
  • Rudolf Nureyev, right, dances with Rhodesian born prima ballerina, Merle Park, during a dress rehearsal at West Berlin's Oper
    AP
    Rudolf Nureyev, right, dances with Rhodesian born prima ballerina, Merle Park, during a dress rehearsal at West Berlin's Opera in 1979.
  • 1980s
    Russian-born French dancer Rudolf Nureyev and American ballerina Eva Evdokimova perform in Nureyev's version of "The Nutcrack
    Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images via Getty Images
    Russian-born French dancer Rudolf Nureyev and American ballerina Eva Evdokimova perform in Nureyev's version of "The Nutcracker" with the Berlin Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, New York, New York, in 1980.
  • The National Ballet performs "The Nutcracker" in 1980.
    Reg Innell via Getty Images
    The National Ballet performs "The Nutcracker" in 1980.
  • Russian-born French dancer Rudolf Nureyev and American ballerina Eva Evdokimova rehearse Nureyev's version of "The Nutcracker
    Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images via Getty Images
    Russian-born French dancer Rudolf Nureyev and American ballerina Eva Evdokimova rehearse Nureyev's version of "The Nutcracker" in 1980.
  • National Ballet company dancers in their Nutcracker Suite costumes in 1981.
    Reg Innell via Getty Images
    National Ballet company dancers in their Nutcracker Suite costumes in 1981.
  • In 1981, stagehand Ray McLaughlin swept artificial snow from the stage of Boston's Metropolitan Center for the Performing Art
    Boston Globe via Getty Images
    In 1981, stagehand Ray McLaughlin swept artificial snow from the stage of Boston's Metropolitan Center for the Performing Arts during dress rehearsal for "The Nutcracker." Elaine Bauer, who danced the role of the Snow Queen, watched while Donn Edwards, who had the role of the Snow King, conversed with Violette Verdy, co-artistic director of the ballet.

A version of this post originally appeared on this site last year.

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