America’s Nutcracker, England’s panto

A couple of late notes about Christmas-season performance traditions:

In the United States, the winter holidays bring to many communities a staging of The Nutcracker. The tradition is relatively new here, essentially launched by George Balanchine in 1954, but the ballet itself originated in imperial Russia. The transplant makes a kind of sense; in our capitalist democracy, we’re all royals—Lorde notwithstanding—deserving of an emperor’s entertainment. Laura Jacobs told the tale lovingly in an article for the January 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, which is online here. Sticklers for historical details should note remarks in the online comments about two antecedents in America to Balanchine’s staging.

In Great Britain, the Christmas pantomime is the thing and has been for ages. The Economist’s Bagehot columnist attended one after two decades away and filed a report, touching on the history of the panto and some recent developments, such as the casting of recognizable names ranging from Linda Gray, of Dallas, to Sir Ian McKellen.


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