The Nutcracker has become, perhaps, the most popular ballet of all time, traditionally performed at the beginning and end of every year. As is customary, the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), under the direction of Alicia Alonso put on its January 1 gala with an excellent rendition of this classic.

This year the company’s performance in the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana’s García Lorca Hall was different; dedicated to the memory of the most senior leader of the Cuban Revolution Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, who passed away on November 25, 2016. The curtain was raised to briefly recall the friendship between Fidel and Alicia.

The performance then turned into a celebration commemorating 125 years since the The Nutcracker was first debuted on December 18, 1892, in Saint Petersburg’s Marinski Theater; starring the legendary dancers Antonietta Dell Era, Pavel Gerdt, Olga Preobrajenska, and Nikolai Legat.

The original choreography was created by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with script by Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Petisa, based on an Alejandro Dumas’ adaptation of The Nutcracker and The Mouse King by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann.

The story revolves around a little German girl named Clara, with music by Tchaikovsky which creates a fairytale atmosphere, leading the young girl to the Land of Sweets, where she is received by the Sugar Plumb Fairy, her Prince and other friends.

Tchaikovsky’s compositions for this two-act ballet are without a doubt one of his most popular, and contain some of his most memorable melodies, including the famous “Waltz of the flowers” and “Dance of the Sugar Plumb Fairy.”

The Nutcracker has been the source of infinite renditions and adaptations, with the story changing from one staging to the next, although the majority follow the basic structure. Some of the most famous versions include that by George Balanchine for the New York Ballet; Yuri Grigorovich for Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater; John Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet; Rudolf Nureyev, Royal Stockholm Theater; Roland Petit, Marseille Ballet; and Mikhael Barishnikov for the American Ballet Theater.

The Havana version of The Nutcracker was created by Alicia Alonso, based on the original choreography by Lev Ivanov and was premiered during the 16th International Ballet Festival held in the Cuban capital, November 5, 1998, as a co-production between Venice’s Teatro La Fenice; the Carlo Felice Theater of Genova and the BNC.

In this version Alicia, always respectful of the great classics and their style – one of the company’s great virtues – has recaptured its traditional elements and developed a simple yet imaginative piece with a more coherent and theatrical staging, appropriate for a modern audience.
Regarding her version of The Nutcracker, Alicia Alonso has stated, “It must be understood that interpreting a classic work while staying true to the choreography and style, doesn’t mean dancing it how it was performed when it was premiered. Technique and staging do not remain static, but evolve. Technique is perfected and, from an expressive point of view, becomes simpler, more synthesized. The artist’s talent will be proven if they are able to make today’s spectator understand its physiology and culture, without betraying the choreography or style, regarding the most characteristic and important of these elements.”

Alonso herself performed The Nutcracker with the American Ballet Theater, Monte Carlo, and Russian Ballets, where she was directed by some of the great maestros of the old school of Russian ballet, such as Nicholas Sergeyev and Alexandra Fedorova.

This year’s function saw a mix of veteran and young dancers. Soloist Chanell Cabrera took on the role of Clara; Raúl Abreu the Nutcracker; first character dancer Ernesto Díaz starred as Unlce Drosselmeyer; while the Queen of the Fairies was danced by lead ballerina Gretel Morejón, who stood out for her clean and precise technique, and was accompanied by first soloist Rafael Quenedit as the Prince.

The eagerly awaited Sugar Plumb Fairy was reserved for the BNC’s lead dancer, Viengsay Valdés, alongside soloist Patricio Revé as the Cavalier Prince. With her strong technique, understanding of dance and style, plus her charisma – in addition to a striking stylistic ductility – Valdés gave a perfect performance of the Sugar Plumb Fairy, which was met with rapturous applause.

As a prologue to the show, a recap of the functions held last year in the García Lorca Hall, and featuring in the Theatre’s Book of Honor, was announced. These included the inaugural gala of the Grand Theater following a three-year restoration project, which was attended by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba; the premier of the opera Tannhauser by the Munich-based Richard Wagner Foundation; the opening works from Acosta Danza’s season; the concert Green by French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, invited to perform by maestro Leo Brouwer; works presented during Contemporary Dance of Cuba’s season; and the 25th International Ballet Festival.

Alicia Alonso herself presided the jury panel, which decided to award the Theater’s Annual Prize to Eusebio Leal, Havana City Historian, for his enormous work restoring Colonial Havana and strong ties with the Grand Theater.

In his acceptance speech Leal spoke about the outstanding Alicia Alonso, describing her as a symbol of friendship, perseverance and strong patriotism.

The Nutcracker, a beautiful, entertaining, and enchanting story of the wooden prince, to which Tchaikovsky’s music is the perfect complement, provided an elegant opening to the BNC’s season, this 2017.