Grand Rapids Symphony Performs at "The Nutcracker" This Week

Each year, two of Grand Rapids most well-known arts organizations join forces to present one of the holiday season's best-known artistic traditions: "The Nutcracker." The Grand Rapids Ballet's performance, re-imagined by "The Polar Express" author Chris Van Allsburg, features the Grand Rapids Symphony orchestra performing Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's beloved score live. This magnificent production features choreography by Val Caniparoli and the imaginative set design of Eugene Lee. Sugar plum fairies, fighting mice, and toy soldiers come to life each year on stage to the wonder and delight of everyone. 

This partnership between the Grand Rapids Ballet and the Grand Rapids Symphony helps bring the arts, music, and joy to the West Michigan area this Holiday season. Take a look at the history of the music with some fun facts!     

1. The uniquely twinkling instrument you hear in “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is a celesta. Tchaikovsky smuggled this relative of the piano into Russia from Paris to add a unique sound to accompany the Sugar Plum Fairy character. 

2. Tchaikovsky died less than a year after the original production of "The Nutcracker," never knowing the impact his work would have on audiences around the world for decades to come. 

3.  Although Tchaikovsky’s score for "The Nutcracker" is one of the best known pieces of his music, he did not feel it was his best work. The composer apparently felt that his earlier composition, the ballet "Sleeping Beauty," was far superior. 

4.  When "The Nutcracker" was first performed in Russia in 1892, critics were not impressed and the future did not look bright for this ballet. In fact, it wasn’t until George Balanchine’s production of the ballet in 1954 that the show began to gain popularity. By the late 1960s, "The Nutcracker" established itself as the essential ballet of the holiday season. Balanchine’s choreography is the version most often performed to this day. 

5. "The Nutcracker’s" premiere was part of a double bill with Tchaikovsky’s final opera, "Iolanta." The Nutcracker went on last and ended shortly after midnight—that’s one long night of music. The lateness of the hour was responsible for more than a few of the negative critiques. The production’s principal ballerina, Antoinetta Dell-Era, didn’t hit the stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy until the waning moments of the second act. Basically, "The Nutcracker" made the audience wait for the ballet’s star attraction. 

6. The music of "The Nutcracker" debuted long before the ballet. In March of 1892, Tchaikovsky conducted "The Nutcracker Suite" at the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. This suite became very popular and for while was more admired than the ballet. The suite features "The Nutcracker’s" most famous sequences including the “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy,” “Russian Dance,” “Arabian Dance” and “Waltz of the Flowers.”   

Performances of the Grand Rapids Ballet's "The Nutcracker" are December 11-13 & 18-20. Tickets are available by visiting or by calling (616) 454-4771.

Written by Matthew Lesky, Grand Rapids Symphony Public Relations Intern

Posted by Sam Napolitan at 06:00
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