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Apologies for a very basic question I am a ballet watching newcomer. Does the Royal Ballet perform Nutcracker every Christmas as ENB do? Or is it every other year, with a different production inbetween? 2015 is Nutcracker I think? Thanks for anyone who can help

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Yes, this Christmas will be Nutcracker.  Last Christmas the main show was Alice.  ENB usually do Nut as well, but there is never a Christmas in London when Nut isn't being performed by one or the other company.  Not that I can remember, anyway! 

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When did the RB start doing the Nutcracker every Christmas?

 

They never used to perform it at all, leaving the field free for ENB, and the occasional BRB visit to London.  However, I can't remember what they used to do instead.  Was it Cinderella?  This was before they started to pair Les Patineurs with the Tales of Beatrix Potter, which annoyed me a good deal, because I always wanted to see the former, but not the latter. 

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When did the RB start doing the Nutcracker every Christmas?

 

They never used to perform it at all, leaving the field free for ENB, and the occasional BRB visit to London.  However, I can't remember what they used to do instead.  Was it Cinderella?  This was before they started to pair Les Patineurs with the Tales of Beatrix Potter, which annoyed me a good deal, because I always wanted to see the former, but not the latter. 

 

Yes, me too re Pats and Pots.

I've been going to the ROH for some 12 years now (counting next Christmas), and I think its only 4 Christmases they haven't done Nutcracker - doing the aforementioned Pots and Pats, Cinderella, and Alice; so roughly its on 3 out of 4 years... ish

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Well, I've been going to the ROH since 1989, and I'd guess it's probably been on at least every other year since then.  I've known it to alternate with Cinderella, before someone got the brilliant idea of doing Beatrix Potter.  The Wright production dates from about the mid 80s, I think - I've no idea what they did before that, but surely they had a while of doing the Nureyev one, so it can hardly be that new a concept.

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They didn't use to do anything particular for Christmas - maybe some Cinderellas or Sleeping Beauty or Fille, but the programming was much more varied in those days - you could see three or four different bills in a month and they didn't do long blocks of anything . The Nureyev Nutcracker was actually premiered at the end of February and had more performances at the beginning of the next season but it wasn't shown in December at all that year. And after that it only reappeared for a handful of performances at a time, mixed in with other things even over Christmas.

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Although the Vic Wells Ballet first danced Nutcracker in January 1934 it does not appear to have become a regular part of Christmas in this country until Festival Ballet was established in 1951 and it was probably Markova who was responsible for performances of Nutcracker becoming associated with Christmas.She had spent much of her career in the US where Balanchine had begun to make this ballet an essential part of Christmas for many American families.

 

The absence of the full length Nutcracker from the Vic Wells company's Christmas schedule seems odd today. It needs to be remembered that De Valois introduced nineteenth century classical ballets into the repertory of her young company to ensure that her dancers acquired and maintained the skills necessary to dance them.They were of use in developing her dancers not as core repertory.Her experience as a professional dancer had shown her that a company which had mastery of these old works could dance anything that a choreographer could devise. Until the company moved to Covent Garden after the war it was new repertory created by Ashton, De Valois and others that was central to the company's repertory. Following the precedent set by Diaghilev the company existed to create new works not to preserve the full length ballets of the previous century.

 

Diaghilev had revived an interest in ballet in western Europe that continued after his death. He had taught a new audience about ballet and that audience knew that ballets were modern, chic and came in a single act. Prewar Audiences may have attended performances of Giselle, Swan Lake and Coppelia at Sadler's Wells but the majority of them knew that real ballet was made by living choreographers and did not need three acts.While audiences did not require sweeteners to persuade them to attend a mixed bill they still had to learn how to watch and appreciate full length works.

 

It was the move to Covent Garden that changed the company's repertory because not everything made for Sadler's Wells looked as good on the Covent Garden stage. The people at the top of the company realised that things would change with the move to the Opera House.The audience was different as were its tastes. It was less keen on short works and as a result the company became increasingly reliant on full length ones but many of these full length ballets were recent creations.In a thirty year period beginning in 1948 Ashton and then MacMillan created a series of full length works some of which continue to play a significant role in the company's life.It was only as this period of exceptional energy and creativity began to wane that the nineteenth century classics came to dominate its repertory with months taken up in repeated performances of one of the ballets guaranteed to put bottoms on seats without any effort required by the marketing department such as Nutcracker.

 

The Royal Ballet does not seem to have bothered that much about Nutcracker until they acquired the Nureyev production in 1968. It seems to have been intended for the Christmas season 1967/68 because Zoe Anderson describes its first performance in February 1968 as a delayed premier. The Board clearly felt a bit guilty about acquiring this production because they warned Anton Dolin who was running Festival Ballet that he was going to have competition.But the Royal Ballet did not become overly reliant on Nutcracker. It was not scheduled three years out of every four and in those years in which it was scheduled there were fewer performances than now. Nutcracker did not dominate the schedule from November and until late January.

 

So what did they dance at Christmas before 1968? Well Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty seem to have kept everyone very happy over the Christmas period before 1968 and afterwards too.There were even performances of Fille in some years, The company seemed to have a larger number of ballets in its current repertory than is the case today. There were no performances of Nutcracker at Covent Garden between 1977 and 1984 but I don't recall anyone feeling particularly deprived. A lot of people, including DE Valois, felt that Sir Peter Wright's production was a bit of a disappointment after the Nureyev one.

 

The dominance of the nineteenth century ballets seems to have begun as the company's own creativity declined and died.Since 1984 the frequency of Nutcracker performances at Covent Garden has increased as has the number of performances in a run.It would seem that Nutcracker became more popular with the company's artistic directors over the years as the company finances worsened.The company's financial crises of the nineteen nineties and the reduction in Arts Council's grants were, no doubt,responsible for the company's increasing reliance on lengthy runs of works like Nutcracker. Dowell tried to extend his company's Christmas repertory by staging The Tales of Beatrix Potter which did nothing to enhance Ashton's reputation as a serious choreographer although it was popular with grandparents with grandchildren in tow.

 

The fact that O'Hare has pensioned off the Tales of Beatrix Potter and was able to put on Acosta's Don Q and Wheeldon's Alice last year suggests that we may not necessarily be seeing quite so much of Nutcracker in the future.This year's revival of Nutcracker and the revival of Giselle early in the New Year could well have more to do with Sir Peter Wright's ninetieth birthday than long lasting financial need.The fact that we are getting mixed bills before and after Christmas which include the Two Pigeons suggests that O'Hare does not feel the need to repeat the same limited number of ballets over Christmas year in year out.Let us hope that this proves to be the case.

Edited by FLOSS
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Fonty the Wiener Staatsballet dance the Nureyev version and there is a DVD to prove it.By the way the Nureyev version is closely connected to the Vainonen staging except for those sections of choreography which give the impression of being a sort of dance obstacle race.Nureyev seemed to me,on occasion, to be more concerned with the display of technique for its own sake than for its aesthetic effect.Strangely it always seemed to involve a great deal of what he was good at and avoided anything that might show him to disadvantage and suggest that he was a mere mortal.

 

As to why the Nureyev production was dropped. Well at the time there was a noticeable decline in the standard of performances of the supporting roles such as the Chinese tumblers which had been performed brilliantly in the past but towards the end were either beyond the capacity of the dancers involved or were very badly coached. Then there was a great falling out between Nureyev and the company which I now believe had a great deal to do with the fees that the company was paying him for his performances.

 

I should have said that Ashton mounted a one act version which I suppose is what is on the DVD of Somes and Fonteyn dancing excerpts from the Tchaikovsky ballets. It was really act 2 which of course means that it must have appeared in mixed bills from time to time before the 1968 production. The ROH website is silent as to the number of performances that it received.

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I should have said that Ashton mounted a one act version which I suppose is what is on the DVD of Somes and Fonteyn dancing excerpts from the Tchaikovsky ballets. It was really act 2 which of course means that it must have appeared in mixed bills from time to time before the 1968 production. The ROH website is silent as to the number of performances that it received.

 

The extract on the Fonteyn/Somes DVD is actually from a one-off TV special, with 'revised choreography' by Peter Wright - not an RB production. I thought Ashton's one-act version was made for the touring company? - and I don't think they ever danced it at Covent Garden.

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Jane S

Thank you for pointing out that Ashton's one act Casse-Noisette was made for Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet. Presumably it was made for the company so that it would have something classical to include in its mixed programme on its first US tour.Billboard 1952 mentions it as part of a mixed bill which included Les Rendezvous an excerpt from Beauty and the Beast,Cass-Noisette and Pineapple Poll.The reviewer seemed to find Rendezvous slow but thought that the programme picked up with Casse-Noisette and was very taken with Pineapple Poll.

 

Ashton's Casse-Noisette had its first performance on 11th September 1951.The cast included Roger Lunnon(King),David Blair (Nutcracker Prince),Svetlana Beriosova(Queen) and Elaine Fifield (Sugar Plum Fairy), Peter Wright was in the corps.I know that his early years in dance brought Peter Wright into contact with a wider range of dance styles and choreography than is usual now, ranging from Kurt Joos to Ashton and the rest of the SWTB repertory.I imagine that he first came into contact with the nineteenth century classics as a performer as a member of SWTB. This Ashton production of Casse-Noisette was probably his first experience of the ballet.Apart from Ashton and Markova and Dolin at Festival Ballet the only other person who I can think of who was involved in staging the classics in this country at about this time was Mona Ingoldsby.

 

Peter Wright has said that he is writing an autobiography so perhaps we will find out just how dependent or independent the TV version of Nutcracker was on his experience with SWTB in 1951.

Edited by FLOSS
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Just to expand a little on Floss's answer; Beauty and the Beast wasn't an excerpt but a very nice piece made by John Cranko using Ravel's Mother Goose Suite.  The Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet had it in the repertoire at one time.  The Theatre Ballet had already danced Casse Noisette in the designs used in 1937 and Markova and Dolin were brought in to coach the dancers.  Ashton's 1951 version appears to have been a pure dance divertissement combining the Kingdom of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets scenes.  From someone who saw it I gather it was really lovely, but perhaps suffered from over-elaborate designs by Cecil Beaton.  Also in the repertory for the US tour was a version of Act II of Swan Lake - again arranged by Ashton.

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Alymer,

 

Thank you for clarifying what I wrote.Do you know if Ashton's Casse-Noisette was ever performed at Covent Garden?

 

The performance database is somewhat patchy. I don't think that it is anywhere near complete as far as performances of individual productions of ballets are concerned.There are too many apparently free standing performances of ballets which take a lot of effort to put on stage and are, as a result, unlikely to be performed for one night only in any one year.

 

Some of the material which has provided the source for the database must be the theatre's own records because the database occasionally gives the stage manager's record of the duration of a performance. But whether it is exclusively based on the theatre's records or whether they have used old programmes as well is far from clear.I assume that it has been compiled from both sources. It is clearly incomplete but there is no indication to suggest that they want to complete the task.

Edited by FLOSS
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As far as I can tell it was danced only by the Theatre Ballet.  Covent Garden seems to have been a Nutcracker-free zone until the Nureyev production premiered.  Personally I enjoyed that version and thought it had some lovely things, especially the snowflakes scene - although that had to be changed early on because the dancers found it too difficult. There is a dvd with Merle Park and Nureyev himself.   I believe the Paris Opera still has the Nureyev Nutcracker in its repertory (I've also seen it danced at La Scala) but with different designs.  I'm not sure if the three-choreographer version announced by Millepied will replace it or whether there will be two versions, as with Giselle.

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