Alexander Benois' The Nutcracker
Act II of The Nutcracker by Alexander Benois
The Ballet Russe Collection
© 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
This most well-known of American ballet icons had, of course,
its origins in Russia. This was to mark the third collaboration
between the Mariinsky's ballet master Marius Petipa and
Tchaikovsky. Petipa, however, grew very ill in 1892 and entrusted
the choreography to his assistant Lev Ivanov. The ballet saw its
premiere on December 18, 1892 at the Maryinsky Theatre in St.
Petersburg, with decor by Botcharov.
The production mounted by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in
1940 was the first one to reach the American shores, with
choreography by Alexandra Fedorova (a former Maryinsky dancer
married to Michel Fokine's brother), after the Ivanov original.
Alexander Benois designed a brand new decor for the occasion, and
getting his designs to America was in itself somewhat of a caper
story, as Benois was living at the time in occupied Paris and any
large mailing from there was most suspect!
The Nutcracker became so popular that it remained in
the Ballet Russe repertoire for almost the entirety of the
company's existence, from 1940 to 1962, with a short hiatus in 1953
when it was not performed.
"By current standards, the Ballet Russe Nutcracker was
a truncated version capable of serving as one item on a mixed bill.
A brief first scene showed the Christmas party, after which Clara
fell asleep and - there being no battle with the mice (although
Benois made sketches for it) journeyed immediately to the snow
country and the land of sweets. Yet this was the first
Nutcracker most American balletgoers had ever seen and it
was extremely popular on tour, so popular that, in time, the
production grew battered and scenes... were further condensed or
Jack Anderson, The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte
Below are the pictures of what remains in our collection of this
Party Scene of Act I (reconstructed
Please note that the backdrop seems incomplete; it is probable
that the unpainted areas were either covered by hard scenery, or
that additional borders or drops came in front of it.
Snow Scene backdrop
Act II set of legs alone
Act I Portal (probably hung in front of
the set in the image above; not shown in the composite image as it
would have entirely hidden the set of legs behind it)
Act II cut drop alone
Act II backdrop alone
Reproduction, including downloading of Benois works is
prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without
the express written permission of Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York.