Ballet: Christmas Ritual

As sure as street-corner Santas or mobile displays in the frosted windows of department stores, The Nutcracker ballet has become an accepted ritual of a big-city Christmas. This year, Nutcracker is being presented in 100 cities from coast to coast—almost everywhere, in fact, that there is a dance troupe with the will and skill to try it.

Of all the versions of the ballet, none captures its wand-waving magic better than George Balanchine's resetting of the original Petipa-Ivanov choreography. First mounted in 1954 by the New York City Ballet at what was...

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