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JCA Dance Home Page

Alexander Benois' The Nutcracker

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 omitted entirely."

Jack Anderson, The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo

Below are the pictures of what remains in our collection of this historical production.

Party Scene of Act I (reconstructed image)
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.

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)

Snow Scene backdrop

Act II cut drop alone

Act II set of legs alone

Act II backdrop alone

Square Portal

Curved Portal

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.