The Nutcracker has become a holiday classic and one of the most popular ballets in the world. The ticket revenue generated during Nutcracker season can often fund a ballet company for the rest of the year. But the road from its Saint Petersburg premiere in 1892 to annual must-see was neither direct nor easy. The ballet remained rather minor and neglected until the staging of George Ballanchine's New York City Ballet version in 1954, and it wasn't really considered a Christmas tradition until the late 1960s. Tchaikovsky himself, who was commissioned to compose the music, didn't have high hopes for its success. Who could blame him? Many of the reviews were … not good. Here are 15 harsh comments that appeared in the papers after The Nutcracker was first performed.
1. IT'S FOR…BLECH…KIDS
"In general, the new ballet is produced primarily with children for children, and for everything that can have value in their eyes as regards external brilliance."
2. BLECH!! KIDS
"In the first scene the entire stage is filled with children, who run about, blow their whistles, hop and jump, are naughty, and interfere with the oldsters dancing. In large amounts this is unbearable."
3. IT HAS NO ARTISTIC MERIT
"For the woman dancer there is very little in it, for art precisely nothing, and for the artistic fate of our ballet — it is yet one more step downwards."
4. IT'S NOT EVEN A BALLET AT ALL
"First of all, The Nutcracker cannot in any event be called a ballet. It does not satisfy even one of the demands made of a ballet."
5. IT HAS NO STORY
"…nor does it have a story, but rather a series of unconnected scenes, recalling the latest pantomimes which the boulevard theaters flaunt."
6. AND TRIES TO HIDE THAT FACT WITH FLUFF
"Almost all the story is placed in the first scene…and the remaining two are divertissements with new decorations and costumes."
7. IT'S JUST A FLASHY DIVERSION
"To repeat, The Nutcracker cannot pretend to be a ballet, but constitutes 'spectacle', which can be given with success on the summer stages of our small theaters. For our first-class ballet the production of such 'spectacles' is an insult."
8. THAT'S NOT EVEN FLASHY ENOUGH
"For a féerie [a vaudeville type show with showy scenery and special effects] it has too little action and machines, whereas for a ballet there aren't enough dances."
9. IT'S BORING
"In conclusion let us add, that having elicited the general disapproval of balletomanes, The Nutcracker failed with the public as well, who found it boring with good reason. God grant that similar failed experiments do not happen often."
10. AND UNDANCEABLE
"As for the Grand ballabile and especially the music of the pas de deux…it is not interesting in any respect and is quite simply boring, and most important, it is unsuitable for dancing."
11. IT WILL BE THE DEATH OF BALLET
"Two or three more such 'Nutcrackers' and our model ballet company…only a pleasant memory will remain."
12. BAD SET DESIGN
"The illumination was primitive; the fountains in the last scene were most wretched, the production officials have obviously never seen fontaines lumineuses."
13. PERFORMERS TOO FAT
"Neither the corpulent, podgy Dell'Era nor her bearded partner who had put on weight could produce model fairy-tale characters, and thereby did not contribute to the success of the performance."
14. IT'S UNWORTHY OF TCHAIKOVSKY'S MUSIC
"In sum: it's a pity that so much good music is expended on such nonsense, so unworthy of attention; but the music in general is excellent."
15. AND JUST GENERALLY BENEATH HIM
"Such a great composer should not have taken upon himself such a trifle and such nonsense as the story of this ballet."
Generations of angels, Polichinelles, Claras, Sugar Plum Fairies, and those who love to watch them should be glad this season that the great composer took on such a lowly project. Sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
Source: The Life And Ballets of Lev Ivanov: Choreographer of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake