Balanchine's version premiered on 2 February 1954. According to Nancy Reynolds in Repertory in Review
Balanchine's was not the first full-length production (Lew Christensen's for the San Francisco Ballet preceded it, and in the 1940's the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo had a shorter two-act version), but since his staging, the ballet has become a habit.
There's no mention of when the ballet began to be performed at Christmas time. Also according to Reynolds, Balanchine used to reply when asked "Why Nutcracker
Before I couldn't do it because we didn't have a theater, didn't have musicians, didn't have money. Then, finally, we had a little bigger company--and Nutcracker Suite is a million-dollar title in America. So Baum [managing director of City Center] asked me to do it."
(I wonder if Nutcracker Suite
was a popular Boston Pops title. I can't find a date for the original Arthur Fiedler recording.)
According the Choregraphy by George Balanchine
, there were four TV showings of excerpts until, in 1957, the full-length version was televised on CBS. Could the exposure on national network television have fueled the Nutcracker
In the opening paragraph her section on The Nutcracker
, Reynolds quotes critic Konstantin Skalkovsky's 1899 assessment:
Generally speaking, The Nutcracker was staged mainly for children; for the dancers it contains very little; for art--exactly nothing. Even its music was rather weak.
Regarding the music, I disagree. As far as the amount of dancing, I guess it depends upon which version, because I haven't seen a major company's production yet where there was not a lot of work to be had for professional dancers, even if I wasn't fond of the choreography. I love the music, and as audience, see a handful of performances each season. If I'm really tired, or the production is mediocre, I might not enjoy a specific performance, but I don't tire of seeing it.
However, there are three things that I find disturbing about the ballet. The first is what chrisk217 raised: if people see middling to bad dancing at their first ballet, which is most likely to be Nutcracker
, it can make the idea of attending any more ballet, especially a yearly pilgrimage to The Nutcracker
, as welcome as having wisdom teeth extracted. The second is how dependent companies are on this one ballet, not just to recoup the production costs -- even where kids perform and rehearse for free, there is so much added rehearsal time -- but to subsidize the rest of the season. (When Kent Stowell did a "non-traditional" version with Maurice Sendak for PNB, it was considered a great risk to the cash cow, although it turned out to be a great success.) The third is, if I were a parent whose children were performing in a semi- or non-professional troupe, and was asked to hold bake sales, buy costumes, sell tickets to everyone I know, and then schlep the kids to rehearsals, I'd be pretty crabby.
I also think in many ways it's easier to take kids to movies or other, often less expensive, activities where they're not expected to sit still (sadly, even at movies), and where it's easier to grab and unruly kid and enforce a "time-out" without ruining the experience for the other children. I don't think we can underestimate parental anxiety about public appearances, especially when the parents don't feel entirely comfortable in the theater.