The Rich Legacy of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker

A look back at The Nutcracker Playbills through the years

Uncover the chronicles of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker, a holiday tradition that has captured the hearts of audiences for over five decades.

Arthur Fiedler, Maria Tallchief, Earle Sieveling, and E. Virginia Williams in rehearsal for The Nutcracker in 1965

Photo credit: unsigned

Boston Ballet in The Nutcracker in 1978 with new sets by Helen Pond and Herbert Senn

Photo credit: A. Epstein

Arthur Fiedler, Maria Tallchief, Earle Sieveling, and E. Virginia Williams in rehearsal for The Nutcracker in 1965

Photo credit: unsigned

Boston Ballet in The Nutcracker in 1978 with new sets by Helen Pond and Herbert Senn

Photo credit: A. Epstein

Boston Ballet began performing The Nutcracker before the Company was even officially established in 1963. In 1958, Company founder E. Virginia Williams started a concert troupe from Boston Ballet School students called the New England Civic Ballet, and the troupe toured regionally with smaller ballets that included a three-act version of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Williams herself.

In December of 1963, Boston Ballet School received a Ford Foundation grant in part thanks to a recommendation by George Balanchine, which launched the professional Company. Within that same month, the Company performed its first formal full-length performance of The Nutcracker. In 1965, Boston Ballet presented its first subscription series and concluded the year with The Nutcracker, which officially marked the beginning of the holiday tradition audiences know and love today.

Edra Toth & Tony Williams in The Nutcracker

Edra Toth and Tony Williams in The Nutcracker circa 1970

Photo credit: unsigned

1965: Boston Ballet presented E. Virginia Williams’ The Nutcracker at Back Bay Theatre with four sold-out performances. Arthur Fiedler, the world-famous conductor of the Boston Pops, led the orchestra. Prima ballerina Maria Tallchief and Earle Sieveling performed the role of Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier as guest artists. New York City Ballet loaned their sets designed by Horace Armistead for the production.

1969: Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker moved from Back Bay Theatre to the Music Hall (renovated into the Metropolitan Center, now known as the Boch Center Wang Theatre), which became the production’s home for over three decades.

1972: Michel Sasson, Boston Ballet’s first music director, conducted his first performance of The Nutcracker

1975: Excerpts of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker were featured on national TV in a live New Year’s Eve telecast at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops.

1978: Renowned designers Helen Pond and Herbert Senn created brand-new scenery for the production, including a growing 40-foot Christmas tree and a flying hot air balloon.

1979: Award-winning costumer David Walker designed brand-new costumes for the characters. One of the most notable costumes was Sugar Plum Fairy’s glittering tutu with over 300 hand-sewn pink and white beads.

1982: Just days before opening night, the roof of the Metropolitan Center was declared unsafe, so the production was quickly moved to the Hynes Auditorium for the season. The show must go on!

1987: Franz, the beloved Dancing Bear, debuted in Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Artistic Director Bruce Marks and Associate Director Bruce Wells also incorporated new choreography for Act II, including changes to the Russian, Tea, and Flowers divertissements.

1990: Newsweek named Boston Ballet Orchestra the best Nutcracker orchestra in the country.

1992: Boston Ballet commemorated the 100th anniversary of the world premiere of The Nutcracker in 1892. For the occasion, the Company hosted a Nutcracker Holiday Market at Hynes Convention Center and a three-part lecture series at the Clarendon Street studio.

1995: For the 30th anniversary of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker, David Walker created 350 new costumes for the show, and the scenery by Helen Pond and Herbert Senn was entirely restored and repainted. More than 20,000 yards of fabric were used for the costumes, and it took 30 people in the Company’s Costume Shop over 22,000 hours to complete them. Pond and Senn worked full-time with a dozen helpers for nine months to construct new backdrops made up of about 80,000 square feet of cloth. Resident choreographer Daniel Pelzig also created new dances for the Snow Scene and the Waltz of the Flowers because the upgraded scenery had increased the depth of stage.

1999: Boston Ballet veteran Tony Collins celebrated his final performance as Mother Ginger. Collins had performed in Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker every single year for 34 years and had never missed a performance.

2003: Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen developed new staging and choreography for Act II.

2004: The production debuted in the Emerson Colonial Theatre with a new Act I by Mikko Nissinen and new sets by Walt Spangler. Spangler incorporated a fresh color scheme for the production, and for the iconic snow scene, floating snowflakes were used to create the glittering illusion of a snow globe.

2009: Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker was voted Best Loved Nutcracker in the country and won the 3rd Annual Goldstar National Nutcracker Award.

2012: Boston Ballet presented the world premiere of Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. Sets and costumes for the new production were designed by Robert Perdziola, which The New York Times called “elegant and theatrically striking.”

2018: Music Director Mischa Santora made his official Company debut conducting The Nutcracker.

2019: Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker returns to the Citizens Bank Opera House.

After 54 years, the fascinating history of this ballet carries on with Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker and you. Become a part of this rich legacy, and take time for joy.

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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