Casse Noisette

Early in 1891 the legendary composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky received a commission from the Imperial Theatre Directorate at St. Petersburg to compose a one-act lyric opera together with a ballet for presentation during the following season. Accepting Tchaikovsky's choice of subject for the opera, the Theatre Directorate selected Alexandre Dumas' French adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman's tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King for the ballet.
Tchaikovsky was not pleased with the subject selection because he felt it did not lend itself to theatrical presentation and was therefore quite unsuited to serve as a scenario for a ballet. Both the opera and ballet were presented on December 18, 1892. The ballet, conducted by Riccardo Drigo, was received somewhat unfavorably. Dance historians have attributed this to the Nutcracker's unusual story which was quite different from the romantic tales usually presented.

The Nutcracker choreography was begun by the redoubtable Marius Petipa. The balance of the work was taken up by his assistant Leon Ivanov when Petipa fell ill. According to historical accounts, when the ballet was finally produced, Petipa refused to have his name linked with it, feeling his own part in its creation was insufficient to be publicly announced. Dance historians have, however, recognized his contribution, and the original choreography is generally credited to both Petipa and Ivanov.

First presented in Western Europe by the Sadler's Wells Ballet at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, January 30, 1934, the production was staged by Nicholas Sergeyev after the original Petipa-Ivanov version. The first full-length American Nutcracker was produced by the San Francisco Ballet in 1944 with choreography by William Christensen.

Although constantly changing over its forty plus year history, one of the landmark Nutcrackers was brought to the Metropolitan area in 1954 by the New York City Ballet with choreography by George Balanchine. Subsequent notable Nutcrackers have been choreographed and staged by Rudolf Nureyev, Royal Swedish Ballet (1967) and England's Royal Ballet (1968) and Mikhail Baryshnikov, American Ballet Theatre (1976). With literally hundreds of Nutcracker productions nationwide, it has become the quintessential holiday classic being presented in theatrical productions, on ice, on the dance stage and in the movies. This American holiday staple has also become an artistic lifeline often providing over fifty percent of a dance company's annual ticket sales.

The basic libretto of the Nutcracker has as many interpretations as there are staged versions. The characters' names often change and plot twists are added. The only constant is the music. Tchaikovsky's musical genius created one of the most recognizable and enduring scores ever written. An abbreviated version, the Nutcracker Suite, is one of the most recorded selections in classical repertoire. In the final analysis, it is the music that has truly given the Nutcracker a life of its own.

The Nutcracker is set in Western Europe during the 1800's. A doctor and town Mayor, Hans Stahlbaum delights in holding large holiday gatherings for family and friends. His two children, Clara and Fritz, anxiously await the arrival of guests. The snow evokes a pleasant festive atmosphere as the guests arrive. Tardy as always, Clara's godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer arrives with special fanfare. He causes quite a stir and then entertains and delights all onlookers with his exquisite mechanical dolls.
All the children receive gifts with Fritz getting a rocking hobby train. A bit jealous, Clara approaches Drosselmeyer for her gift. He teases her with a presentation of a mother mouse. Fritz pulls a baby mouse from the mother mouse's apron and sends Clara scampering. Drosselmeyer quickly makes amends and presents Clara with an unusual prize, a colorful Nutcracker. Delighted, Clara instantly is enthralled with the gift. Sibling rivalry takes hold and in a tussle to wrest the Nutcracker away from Clara, Fritz breaks him.  Drosselmeyer repairs the poor Nutcracker, but Clara is disappointed. Drosselmeyer promises that all will be well.

Evening overtakes the party and the guests depart. Clara is shooed to bed. All is quiet in the Stahlbaum residency, or is it? Clara has awakened and longing for her Nutcracker comes back to the living room. She quickly finds her doll and falls asleep again. There begins her magical dream...

Thematically, Clara is cast as a teen just beginning to bud into adulthood. She is young enough to display childlike emotions, yet mature enough to fantasize that a doll turned human can have idyllic qualities of heroism, selflessness, tenderness and a zest for adventure. Her attraction to the handsome Nutcracker is only natural; Clara has created him in her mind's eye. She has molded a doll into a living being and a prince at that. Her devotion to the Nutcracker is symbolized by her brave effort to save him from being vanquished by the evil Mouse King. As the Nutcracker becomes more lifelike, the dream sequence carries her to a romantic interlude, a magical winter wonderland and an exotic garden in the Kingdom of the Sweets.
The character of Drosselmeyer has almost endless possibilities. The Seiskaya version adopts the characterization of him as Clara's godfather who is an eccentric maker of magnificent mechanical toys. A widower with no children of his own, he delights in teasing and pleasing his only godchild. Drosselmeyer's relationship to the Nutcracker is simply that of an artisan. Clara's dream vision of Drosselmeyer is an expression of her affection for him and an extension of the attributes she sees in him.

The Nutcracker has two major ensemble dances: the Dance of the Snowflakes and the Dance of the Flowers. One of the strengths of the Seiskaya Company has always been ensemble segments. Nowhere is this more evident than in these dances. Flowing lines, exact patterns and intricate interplay between corps and soloists are the hallmark of the choreography.

Cyril W. Beaumont the noted dance critic, historian and author panned the original 1934 British version of the Nutcracker. "The final scene is merely an excuse for the traditional series of character dances which, in this instance, are seldom appropriate to the situation and, generally speaking are of indifferent quality." History has proven even a revered critic like Mr. Beaumont can be wrong. The Second Act has long been considered the ballet's highlight.

The Seiskaya version of the Kingdom of the Sweets, Act II, reaffirms the classical approach. The scene opens with the Sugar Plum Fairy joined by a host of angels followed by the entrance of her court and finally Clara and the Nutcracker. Clara and the Nutcracker are presented with sweets and fruits from around the world. The members of the Sugar Plum's court represent many lands as well as characters from children's fairy tales. Clara's dream at this juncture takes on a "sugar and spice and everything nice" tone. Seiskaya's unusual choreographic adaptations frame the character ballet dances with a unique quality.
Beaumont was a lot more generous in his opinion of the Dance of the Snowflakes and in particular the Sugar Plum Pas de Deux: "...there are three beautiful 'classical numbers' - the pas de deux danced by the Sugar-Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, the latter's variation, and the 'Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy.' "Seiskaya's rendition of this famous pas de deux showcases the talents of former Pittsburgh Ballet standout, Nick Coppula, Cavalier, and Seiskaya Ballet's remarkable ballerinas Jenna Lee, Diana Atoian and Brianna Jimenez. About the pas de deux it can be said, "we saved the best for last."

Choreographer and          Regisseur

Valia Seiskaya was a featured soloist with the National Opera of Greece for seventeen years during which time she gained an affinity for the grand sweep of story-line ballets and operas staged by the company. Her own choreographic works such as Street People, Las Damiselas and MASK reflect that interest. Fresh interpretations of classical favorites La Boutique Fantasque, Walpurgis Night and A Night on Bald Mountain complement her signature ensemble works Grand Waltz, Seasons and Dance of the Hours. A Master Teacher and noted pedagogue, Mde. Seiskaya was nominated as "Best Teacher and Coach" at the 1994 International Ballet Competition, Varna, Bulgaria. Her students have achieved an unparalleled level of success garnering honors in numerous major competitions. Since the inception of her professional training program, over seventy students have opted for professional careers.
                                                                                                             Return to top

Seiskaya Ballet's Nutcracker Home Page