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Gallery: Historic photos of The Nutcracker

Fascinating archive images from ROH Collections capture previous performances of this classic festive ballet.

By Ottilie Thornhill (Winner of the Kings Cultural Challenge)

17 December 2015 at 5.42pm | 8 Comments

Some of the most festive items held by ROH Collections must surely be the archive images of The Nutcracker. Photograph collections by Roger Wood and Donald Southern capture previous productions by Frederick Ashton and Rudolf Nureyev, as well as the first performances of Peter Wright’s 1984 version – which the Company still performs today.

The story goes back further than that, though: in 1934 the Vic-Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) became the first company outside of Russia to stage a new production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, staged by Nicholas Grigorievich Sergeyev.

But in 1951 the Company’s Founder Choreographer Frederick Ashton staged a new version for a US version by Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, with designs by Cecil Beaton. Ashton’s version omits the Act I Christmas party, focussing instead on the Act II divertissements. His Two Scenes from Casse-Noisette had its premiere at Sadler’s Wells on 11 September 1951 before performances in 1952 in New York and on tour in the USA.

Dancers Elaine Fifield and David Blair can be seen as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince, while Svetlana Beriosova and Robert Lunnon dance as Queen and King in the Waltz of the Snowflakes scene. Further dancers pictured include Wright in the ‘Coffee from Arabia’ divertissement, along with Stella Claire, Arnott Mader and Graham McCormack; Margaret Sear, Pirmin Trecu and Sheilah O’Reilly in ‘Chocolate from Spain’; and Maryon Lane as the ‘Crystallized Flower’.

In 1968, Rudolf Nureyev created a new, dramatic version of The Nutcracker, in which the story is told through Clara’s eyes. Images by Roger Wood show Nureyev as the Prince with Merle Park as Clara, alongside photographs of the divertissements. In a later performance, Nureyev and Antoinette Sibley wait backstage with Anthony Dowell as the Prince.

Some of the last photos in the Roger Wood collection capture the premiere of Wright’s new production in 1984 – a fabulous gala event, attended by Queen Elizabeth II.

Find out more about ROH Collections.

This article has 8 comments

  1. Surely it is Antoinette Sibley as Clara in the picture above, with Anthony Dowell and Rudolf Nureyev.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 17 December 2015 at 11:34pm

      Thank you very much for alerting us to this error. We have now amended the caption.

      Best wishes


  2. Richard Ellis, subject of the above obituary, died in Chicago about 5 years ago, was the prince in the 1934 production of Nutcracker and spent many years as Ruth Page's Drosselmeyer in the 60s, 70s, etc. His widow, I believe, is still with us

  3. George Dorris responded on 19 December 2015 at 7:49pm Reply

    How fascinating to see the pictures of the SW Theatre Ballet in Ashton's version (very pink, as I recall), which I saw in San Francisco on the company's 1951-2 tour. Since then I've seen many performances of the Royal Ballet in Chicago, New York, and London, but this young company, with Beriosova, Fifield, Lane, Blair, Holden, Wright and many others still holds a particularly warm place in my memories.

  4. I can't help thinking that you should make it clear that Ashton's version of Casse Noisette was created for the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet for its 1951 US tour.Although the photographs are clearly labelled Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet a casual reader would be forgiven for believing that the text which you have posted is about the performance history of the Nutcracker by the Royal Ballet and its predecessor companies. At the time that the 1951 production was created the resident ballet company at Covent Garden was still called the Sadler's Wells Ballet. The Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, as I am sure you are aware, was a completely different company from the one resident at the Royal opera House. This is not clear from the current text nor is there information about what choreography Ashton contributed to the production. In an article dated 29th May 2009 posted on the Birmingham Royal Ballet website it said that the production included Ashton's choreography for the Snowflakes and Kingdom of Sweets.

    It would be helpful if you would say where the 1951 production was first danced and whether it was ever danced at Covent Garden.I can find no reference to the 1951 production on the ROH performance database so I assume it was not danced there. However as the database is far from complete and is not updated at regular intervals it is dangerous to rely on it as being completely accurate.

    If the database is constructed on the basis of your acquisition of data such as programmes and therefore far from complete then perhaps you should make that clear to its users and invite assistance from the public. Many people of a certain age are in the process of down sizing and vast quantities of programmes which might plug the gaps in your database are being destroyed.

    May I ask why the database does not record what ballets were performed together in a programme on any particular evening? It would take hours to find out ,for instance, what other ballets were performed on the evening that Daphnis and Chloe was premiered.

    • Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer) responded on 11 April 2016 at 11:30am

      Hi there,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I've passed this on to the Collections Department who will get in touch with a response shortly.
      All best wishes,

  5. Sally hopkins responded on 18 March 2018 at 9:53pm Reply

    Any mention of Beatrice Appleyard, who was one of the original members of the Sadlers wells ballet ?

  6. Mr. Currie Pederson responded on 18 March 2018 at 9:57pm Reply

    I was privileged to see Sadler Wells Theater Ballet with Elaine Fifield in Pineapple Poll in Salt Lake City in 1952 and to meet Peggy VonPragh while a student of Sophie Reed in Ogden Utah - I later in life was in the corps de ballet of Ballet Theater and then on to movies and television. I shall always remember my seeing Miss Fifield. Such a joy.

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