I’ve always thought of the “Nutcracker” as one of those holiday traditions that’s gone on so long you could never find when it began. Maybe it feels like forever if you’re a ballet dancer, but Atlanta Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s classic hit a milestone this season: 50 years.
In a story by Howard Pousner in this Sunday’s AJC, one-time artistic director Robert Barnett recalled how they performed only the second act in the first “Nutcracker” season in Atlanta in 1959. They danced George Balanchine’s choreography at the long-gone Tower Theatre, only the third such performance in the United States, outside New York and San Francisco.
He was certain there would be a big audience for this “charming and very children-friendly” ballet when he and his wife, Virginia Rich Barnett, were hired by what was then the Atlanta Civic Ballet as associate artistic directors and principal dancers. So Barnett called his mentor and asked his permission to stage “Nutcracker.”
Balanchine told the Barnetts they could reproduce any of his ballets they could remember, no royalty charged.
But because of the Atlanta company’s miniscule annual budget ($16,000), they could only afford to perform Act 2 in 1959. Every year thereafter, however, Barnett would add a little bit more, until he finally staged the full ballet for the first time in 1965 at Atlanta’s old Municipal Auditorium downtown, better known as home to sweaty Georgia Championship Wrestling bills.
Since then, how many thousands of eyes have watched the show, or another “Nutcracker” production around metro Atlanta? (Here’s a list of several “Nutcracker” performances.) What are your favorite local “Nutcracker” memories?
Want to go? Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” Dec. 11-27, with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra only Dec. 11-13. $29-$113. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-800-982-2787, www.atlantaballet.com. There are several other “Nutcracker” events this year to celebrate the anniversary.
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