Tchaikovsky’s Christmas present to the world: the grand pas de deux from Nutcracker

We have to thank – or blame – William Christensen, the founding artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet, for creating America’s addiction to the Nutcracker at Christmas.

In 1944, Christensen produced the first full length production in the United States and soon after made it the San Francisco Ballet’s annual tradition.

At the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine followed suit.

Throughout the US, the tradition spread not only geographically but thematically so now Clara, the soldiers, the rats and the Sugar Plum Fairy can appear in any form, anywhere and in any era.

A decade ago, the author, Jennifer Fisher, wrote in Nutcracker Nation: “Hulas were added in Hawaii, cowboys in Arizona, hockey players in Winnipeg, Cajun food in Louisiana.

“Clara, it turns out, might have moved from Germany to Georgia, and she might be a jazz dancer, or a student of ballet folklórico or bharata natyam, a classical dance form from southern India . . .

“Making Clara an illegal alien or a cross-dresser, or having the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince duke it out in a boxing ring are merely alternate ways of having the ballet reflect a particular community . . . People want to feel as if their version belongs to them.”

In Australia, Li Cunxin is making it a tradition for the Queensland Ballet to present Ben Stevenson’s Nutcracker every year while Peter Wright’s production will return at the end of next year when it’s revived by the Australian Ballet.

I hope that soon Graeme Murphy’s production returns as well. It is a masterpiece.

For now, I am content to listen and re-listen to Tchaikovsky’s spine tingling grand pas de deux for Nutcracker, one of his many gifts to the world.

The clip shows Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding dancing the grand pas in a Dutch National Ballet production in 2011.

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Nutcracker, Ballet Idaho, 2013, photographer unknown

Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg, Nutcracker, American Ballet Theatre, photo © Gene Schiavone