The Nutcracker: An Evolution

Posted on 15 December 2020 By Behind Ballet Editorial Team

Tchaikovsky’s most delightful score, a cosy Yuletide party, dancing snowflakes and flowers, a glittering Sugar Plum Fairy … it’s no wonder that The Nutcracker is a mainstay of the ballet calendar. 

We performed our first version of The Nutcracker, choreographed by David Lichine, on 28 December, 1963, at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre. We’ve been gliding off to the Land of Sweets ever since. A lavish production by the Russian husband-and-wife team Valentina Kozlova and Leonid Kozlov in the 1980s was followed by an inventive contemporary version by Graeme Murphy in the 1990s. In 2014, we took Peter Wright’s sublime traditional production into our repertoire. 

Come whirl in the snow as we trace the changing look of the ultimate Christmas ballet. 

The Sixties

A rare find from our archives shows the ballerina Kathleen Gorham as the Sugar Plum Fairy in David Lichine's production. 

Photography James Robinson


Valentina Kozlova, with Simon Dow, shines as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the production she and her husband Leonid created for The Australian Ballet in 1982. Kozlova, a dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet, defected from Russia in 1979; she was a principal artist of The Australian Ballet, and later of New York City Ballet. The Kozlovs' production featured exquisite, whimsical designs by painter Hugh Oliviero.

Valentina Kozlova and Simon Dow. Photography Athol Shmith / Gary Norman and artists of The Australian Ballet; Andrea Toy and Paul Hamilton. Photography Branco Gaica


Graeme Murphy's inventive version has an ageing Clara remembering her life as a Mariinsky Ballet star, travelling all over the world with the Ballets Russes after the heartbreak of losing her lover in the Russian Revolution.  

Jarryd Madden and Leanne Stojmenov. Photography Jeff Busby / Chrissa Keramidas; artists of The Australian Ballet. Lynette Wills / Artists of The Australian Ballet. Branco Gaica


When it comes to traditional versions of The Nutcracker, none is more perfect in each detail Peter Wright's. Every element of the spell, from the Christmas party to the slightly sinister Drosselmeyer to the fight with the Rat King to the wondrous Land of Sweets, is beautifully realised. As London's Independent critic put it, "its marvels are properly marvellous".

Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo; Yuumi Yumada. Photography Daniel Boud / Lisa Craig; Eloise Fryer and Imogen Chapman. Photography Lynette Wills / Andrew Killian. Photography Kate Longley