40 Years of The Nutcracker in Cincinnati

The holidays in Cincinnati bring many traditions to mind.  You can go see the Duke Energy train display at the Cincinnati Museum Center (formerly the CG&E train display and previously located downtown), and you surely do not want to miss the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo.  One tradition in particular, though, is celebrating a big anniversary.  2014 marks the 40th year for Cincinnati Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker.  For many Cincinnatians, a trip to see The Nutcracker at Music Hall is their first experience with the ballet, and for others it might be their only experience.

Panorama of the stage at Music Hall
The opening night of Cincinnati Ballet Company’s first production of The Nutcracker took place on December 18, 1974.  David McLain was the artistic director of the ballet at the time, and he was intent on making this performance Mother Ginger, 1988of The Nutcracker intrinsically Cincinnati.  The ballet was set in Cincinnati in 1892 to coincide with the ballet’s original premier in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Stage designs were based on photos of prominent Cincinnatians’ homes and several costume designs were from historic catalogs of Cincinnati department stores.  The production was made possible through support from Frisch’s Restaurants, which continues to support The Nutcracker to this day.

Not only is The Nutcracker an important Cincinnati holiday tradition, the production provides about fifty percent of Cincinnati Ballet’s annual ticket sales so it has become important for helping to fund the remainder of Cincinnati Ballet’s season.  Interestingly enough, The Nutcracker is so beloved by Nutcracker PoodlesAmericans that it is very common for American ballet companies to acquire a large portion of their annual income from performances of this ballet.  In fact, The Nutcracker is more popular in the U.S. than in its native Russia. The very first Nutcracker ballet premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 17, 1892.  The story is adapted from The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A.  Hoffman.  This darker tale told the story of Marie and her Christmas toys that come to life.  Alexandre Dumas adapted the story into a lighter version which was then adapted into a ballet composed by Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Marius Petipa.

In the last 40 years, the Cincinnati Ballet has performed six different versions of The Nutcracker.  Each variation has had its memorable aspects. From a Nutcracker Tree, 1974massive tree and dancing poodles in the original production to a giant ginger cat named Frau Kitzenkatzen in the 1987 production, there has always been something new to see in The Nutcracker.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Cincinnati Ballet, consult David Lyman’s recent book, Cincinnati Ballet Celebrates 50 which is available in the Archives and Rare Books Library reference section GV1786.C5 C55 2013 and a circulating copy is available in the CCM Library.  The Archives and Rare Books Library also holds records of the Cincinnati Ballet and papers of David McLain and David Blackburn.  For more information or to view the collections, contact the Archives and Rare Books Library at 513-556-1959 or archives@ucmail.uc.edu.