The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition
Every December, The Nutcracker comes to life in theaters all across the United States. But how did this 19th-century Russian ballet become such a big part of the holidays in 21st-century America?
Meet Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen, three small-town Utah boys who caught the ballet bug in the early 1900s. They performed on vaudeville and took part in the New York City dance scene. Russian immigrants shared the story of The Nutcracker with them, and during World War II, they staged their own Christmastime production in San Francisco. It was America's first full-length version and the beginning of a delightful holiday tradition.
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About the Author
Cathy Gendron has been an illustrator for more than twenty years. She is also a teacher at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. She lives and works in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
"Balancing evocative turns of phrase with a crisp, forthright narrative, Barton delivers an involving account of how watching The Nutcracker ballet, which originated in Russia, became an American holiday tradition. The movement was fueled by the Christensen brothers from Utah, who turned their passion for dance into careers in vaudeville and prestigious dance companies, before two of them choreographed and staged the first full-length American production of The Nutcracker in 1944. In her first picture book, Gendron uses pencil-and-oil art--strikingly textured with sweeping scratch-marks--to provide views from studio, audience, and stage wings, expertly capturing both the period setting and the graceful movements of the dancers. A detailed timeline and archival photos round out a fascinating bit of artistic investigation, one with year-round appeal."--starred, Publishers Weekly--Journal
"Barton's folksy, direct-address text introduces three brothers from Utah, all dancers, who eventually teamed up at the San Francisco Ballet to present the first full production in the United States of The Nutcracker, on Christmas Eve 1944. Tchaikovsky's music had become popular by then, but the general public didn't know his ballets. The vaudeville-trained Christensen brothers knew a good thing when they saw it. Gendron's art effectively reproduces traditional ballet poses and makes the most of the book's large trim size. This is a good book to share with children after seeing a performance of The Nutcracker."--The Horn Book Magazine--Journal
"This well-researched history tells how three brothers from a small town in Utah came together to present the first full-length version of The Nutcracker in America. That performance on Christmas Eve, 1944, at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco started a holiday tradition that continues to this day in cities across the United States. Gendron's colorful illustrations capture the historical setting and the action and drama onstage and off. Back matter includes a time line with black-and-white photos, a summary of the story line, and suggestions for further reading. VERDICT: A terrific choice for fans of The Nutcracker and all things ballet."--starred, School Library Journal--Journal
"From Russia with battling mice and waltzing flowers. In the early 20th century, three brothers from Utah caught dancing fever and went on to join the vaudeville circuit, performing all across America. One of the brothers went on to Portland, Oregon, to start a ballet school and, following the advice of a Russian émigré conductor, used music from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker to choreograph dances for his students. Two of the three siblings found themselves in San Francisco in 1944 in search of a big-ticket number for the San Francisco Ballet. Everyone helped on the production, but it was not until 1949, with all three brothers working together, that The Nutcracker as an annual Christmas tradition began. Barton writes with an easygoing, folksy style with, perhaps, an overreliance on the phrase "the whole shebang." Though Barton ably does here what he did for the inventor subjects of Sibert honoree The Day-Glo Brothers, illustrated by Tony Persiani (2009), balletomanes will regret that he doesn't go into greater detail about the actual San Francisco Ballet production. Gendron's oil paintings present scenes from the lives of the brothers and from the staging of the ballet. A swirling ribbon is an appropriate ongoing motif, but too often the dancers appear in stiff, cardboard poses. Nutcracker aficionados can enjoy a background overture to a Christmas classic."--Kirkus Reviews--Journal
"William, Harold, and Lew Christensen grew up in a small Utah town in the early 1900s. When they discovered ballet, they worked hard at it and took their acrobatic dancing to Vaudeville, where they learned showmanship as well. Later William staged selections from The Nutcracker in Portland, while Harold and Lew danced in New York. In the 1940s, Lew served in World War II and William and Harold worked with the San Francisco Ballet, mounting the first full production of The Nutcracker in the U.S. Restaged by the three brothers in 1949, it became an annual holiday tradition. Best known for writing the Sibert Honor book The Day-Glo Brothers (2009), not to mention Shark vs. Train (2010), Barton offers a lively, colorful text and follows up with a very informative time line, illustrated with period photos, in the back matter. In her picture book debut, Gendron turns in a virtuoso performance. Her handsome illustrations capture the distinctive posture and poise of ballet dancers, while portraying even minor characters as individuals. Suffused with light and warmth, the varied, imaginative paintings include dynamic textured effects as well as an inventively used ribbon to tie pages together. Even readers familiar with The Nutcracker will probably learn a good deal from this engaging picture book. Bravo! Brava!"--starred, Booklist--Journal