Chasing the American Dream: Making _The Nutcracker_ a Christmas Tradition in the United States

Alexandra Walsh, Dr. Caroline Clark, Department of Dance, Kennesaw State University, 1000 Chastain Road Kennesaw, GA 30144

For many in the United States, The Nutcracker ballet is synonymous with the Christmas season, as it has secured prominence among annual Christmas traditions. Likewise, for many American ballet companies, The Nutcracker is both a fan-favorite and a financial success. Given the ballet’s less than complimentary reception following its 1892 Russian premiere, it is remarkable that America has embraced it eagerly. This leads to the question, what transformed The Nutcracker from a mediocre ballet into a beloved holiday classic? Did American interest in The Nutcracker arise out of artistic appreciation, or were other sociological factors involved? Identification of the catalyst behind The Nutcracker’s rise to fame in the United States requires a literature review investigating the historical, political, cultural, and economic context of The Nutcracker’s American debut. Existing dance scholarship takes an interdisciplinary approach to exploring the contextual history of The Nutcracker. Through cross-analysis of published scholarship, this presentation investigates the intricacy involved in making a ballet a tradition. Interestingly, one of the earliest introductions American audiences had to The Nutcracker was not as a ballet but as part of the Disney film, Fantasia. Some scholars suggest that Disney’s whimsical cartoon choreography provided inspiration for the American Nutcrackers that would develop. Further analysis of the role of the arts and the nature of international relations during World War II suggests that American “high-art,” including the ballet and classical music of the upper class, assumed new, perhaps patriotic, meaning within the home-front war effort. Additionally, as war influenced the American perspective, political and military alliances likely directed the course of popular culture. When considered in conjunction with history and politics, it seems that The Nutcracker ballet’s American success is rooted more deeply in the realities of war, technology, and global relations than in the fantasies of sugar plums and dew drops.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Alexandra Walsh

Institution: Kennesaw State University

Type: Poster

Subject: Dance

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 5
Date/Time: Tue 12:30pm-1:30pm
Session Number: 4074