George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker – review and tips about the ballet performance in New York City

I mentioned the other day here on the blog that Thiago and I took advantage of the end of the year to do some things from our bucket list. One of them was to check out a ballet performance at Lincoln Center. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is one of the classic spectacles of Christmas season in the city. We always wanted to see it and we ended up postponing it – but after a friend made some great comments, we finally bought our tickets.

First of all, I think it is interesting to give an overview of the Lincoln Center. This Upper West Side complex is home to twelve art companies including the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the Philharmonic Orchestra and the New York City Ballet. The place includes presentations of these companies all year round and I would say that even if you do not go to see a show there, it is worth to visit the place, especially at night, since is beautiful – and it was featured on TV series like Gossip Girl.

The George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker performance takes place at the David H. Koch Theater, which has a breathtaking structure. There are five seating areas – orchestra, with the most privileged view – and first, second, third and fourth rings. Our seat was in the fourth ring and although we were on top, I did not think our experience was muddled by it.

The origin of the Nutcracker, a classic Christmas Story, is a fairy tale ballet in two acts centered on a family’s Christmas Eve celebration. Alexandre Dumas Père’s adaptation of the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann was set to music by Tchaikovsky and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa. It was commissioned by the director of Moscow’s Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, in 1891, and premiered a week before Christmas 1892. Since premiering in western countries in the 1940s, this ballet has become perhaps the most popular to be performed around Christmas time.

I confess that I did not do any research on ballet performances and had an idea in my head (of my imagination, only) and did not know exactly what to expect. The show is divided into two acts. The first act has a play footprint – but no dialogue. In this part, we see Clara’s house during Christmas night. She gets from her uncle a human-looking nutcracker puppet, dressed as a soldier, but with disproportionate legs and head. After the happy Christmas night ends, Clara, who went to sleep in the living room, wakes up and realizes that the soldier now has life and fights against the rats invading the room. The battle has a happy ending and the Nutcracker becomes a prince, who takes her to the Kingdom of Snows when the first act ends. The cast of this first part is composed of many children – Clara and the Nutcracker itself are two children. In fact, this part of the story is very childish – and the theater was full of kids too.

In the second act, Clara and the prince go to the  Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The kingdom is presented through presentations that represent various parts of the world: chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, tea from China, flute dancing, waltz from flowers. There are several ballet performances – individual and group – and it was, of course, the part that I liked the most. The costumes are perfect, the dances are beautiful, everything is perfectly synchronized. Besides, there’s no telling about the orchestra: the music is perfect and the steps of the dances – and even the scenes from the first act – are synchronized with the music. Each number has perfect timing and the diversity of dances makes the whole presentation less tiring and more dynamic.

In the end, I think the play part helps give the show more rhythm – if it was just dance, it might become very tiring. It was a different and beautiful experience, for sure. I am curious to check out other ballet shows at Lincoln Center. You can check the calendar here.

What you need to know:

  • New York Ballet calendar has 4 seasons: Fall (mid Sep-mid Oct), George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (end of Nov – end of Dec), Winter (end of Jan – beginning of March) and Spring (end of April – beginning of Jun)
  • Tickets can be purchased through the website or at the box office. Remember that you can’t use e-tickets, so you can choose between receiving the tickets by mail or to get them at the box office. Prices start at $40. 
  • You can’t be late. 
  • The performance lasts two hours, with a 25 intermission. 
  • Don’t worry about dress code. 

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