Some critics deemed the story "lopsided" and "confusing." Others called the score "ponderous" and "insipid." Now that The Nutcracker is one of the most-beloved and most-performed ballets in the world, it's hard to believe - but its debut at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on Dec. 18, 1892, was followed by decidedly mixed reviews.
It probably didn't help that the ballet - based on a French adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - was commissioned as part of a Tchaikovsky double bill. By the time the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux came along, it was past midnight.
But even Tchaikovsky found the piece to be a challenge: Ballet master Marius Petipa wrote a detailed scenario (including the number of beats to the bar) for him to follow, and the composer hated working under such strict limitations.
Still, The Nutcracker became a staple of the Russian repertoire. And by the mid-20th century, it had gained wider popularity in the West. At this point, it's pretty much omnipresent come the holiday season. Most productions include a few key basics: a young girl whose nutcracker doll turns into a prince, a magical journey to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets, and, yes, all those cute kids involved in the company.
These 10 productions across the country also include a few twists on the action.
The vision First shown in 2008, this version of the ballet by Edmund Stripe moves the setting from Germany to Imperial Russia. Designer Zack Brown's first-act party set is a replica of Tchaikovsky's own drawing room.
The standout Stage wizardry that magically transforms Klara's house into the frozen expanse of a Russian winter landscape complete with Arctic wolves and a Snow Czarina.
The dates Ottawa, until Sunday; Edmonton, Dec. 10-12; Calgary, Dec. 17-23; Vancouver, Dec. 29-Jan. 1.
BALLET JORGEN CANADA
The vision Bengt Jorgen's 2008 creation is a Group of Seven Nutcracker that transcribes every detail of the original story into Canadiana (including a canoe).
The standout The backdrop - 26 by 46 feet - depicting Tom Thomson's painting Snow in the Woods.
The dates Toronto, Dec. 8-9; Chatham, Dec. 11-12; Brantford, Dec. 15; Ottawa, Dec. 17-21; Windsor, Dec. 23; Kitchener-Waterloo, Dec. 28; Markham, Dec. 29-30.
BALLET KELOWNA/CANADIAN SCHOOL OF BALLET
The vision This traditional approach to the story - with choreography by Fernand Nault, Lori Larson, Mel Brown and David LaHay - has developed over time based on the original.
The standout Ballet Kelowna's six professional dancers are augmented by 150 ballet students who perform key roles in the divertissements.
The dates Kelowna, Dec. 9-12; Vernon, Dec. 17-18; Kamloops, Dec. 22-23.
CANADIAN PACIFIC BALLET
The vision Roberta Taylor's choreography is a homage to classical ballet, performed to Tchaikovsky's shorter Nutcracker Suite, narrated by an elderly Clara Stahlbaum.
The standout The ballet is preceded by an interactive Sugar Plum Fair where the children get passports, then visit tables in the decorated lobby representing the ethnic divertissements in the ballet.
The dates Victoria, Dec. 28-30.
The vision Premiered last year, this Nutcracker reflects a Vancouver that is a diverse and magical city. Choreography by Anna-Marie Holmes includes classical ballet, ballroom, Russian folk dance and rhythm gymnastics - and did we mention the drag queen? Lead roles are performed by principal dancers from the National Ballet of Canada and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
The standout Drosselmeyer is played by a real magician performing tricks throughout.
The dates Vancouver, Dec. 16-19.
LES GRANDS BALLETS CANADIENS
The vision A traditional classical ballet, beautifully staged and faithful to the Petipa scenario - the longest running ballet, performed in the same venue, in Canada.
The standout The original François Barbeau costumes, which radiate charm and whimsy.
The dates Montreal, Dec. 11-30.
QUINTE BALLET SCHOOL OF CANADA
The vision In this new take on the ballet, a pop-up storybook comes to cartoonish life onstage as a modern-day father reads his daughter the story of The Nutcracker. Told through classical ballet, flamenco, Middle Eastern and Russian folk dance by choreographer John Ottmann.
The standout The mischievous Grinch, played by an actor, is a major character who steals the Christmas tree in a twist reminiscent of the Dr. Seuss story.
The dates Belleville, Saturday; Oshawa, Dec. 11.
NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA
The vision This is the Big Kahuna of productions in terms of challenging choreography (by James Kudelka) and lavish sets and costumes that capture the opulence of czarist Russia.
The standout Boys can relate to this version because Misha, the brother of little Marie, also goes on the magical journey as an equal partner.
The dates Toronto, Dec. 11-Jan. 2.
ROYAL WINNIPEG BALLET
The vision This is a traditional story, but given a Prairie perspective by setting the scene in a stately home on Winnipeg's Wellington Crescent in 1913.
The standout The Canadiana - including a hockey game on a snowy pond, a battle on Ottawa's Parliament Hill, the Northern Lights and a scene-stealing bear.
The dates Winnipeg, Dec. 22-29.
SOLOMON TENCER PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS STARS OF THE KIROV AND BOLSHOI BALLETS
The vision A faithful presentation of the Russian Nutcracker featuring former Eastern bloc émigrés and Russian-trained students, with sets and costumes borrowed from the Bolshoi Ballet.
The standout: The principal roles are danced by superstars Elena Andrienko (Bolshoi Ballet) and Alexander Sergeev (Kirov Ballet).
The dates: Toronto, Dec. 18-19.
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