Critical response to Tchaikovsky's Casse-Noisette (The Nutcracker), the ballet-féerie premiered in December 1892 in St. Petersburg, has historically been mixed. An aesthetic mongrel, the original production joined the highbrow expectations of Romantic ballet with the popular conventions of the féerie and challenged its first audience just as much as its immediate predecessor, The Sleeping Beauty. To this day, writers object to the original libretto's uneven distribution of pantomime and dance and its lack of a coherent story, of continuous development, and of a satisfying conclusion. This article offers an alternative reading that reconstructs the dramatic disruptions and turnabouts and relates them to the first production's aesthetics and politics. The ballet's composer and choreographers, using music, action, and dance, repeatedly placed the audience in a position of wonder and awe similar to that of the young heroine Clara. This aesthetic captured Alexander III's particular “scenario of power” (Richard Wortman) in late-nineteenth-century Tsarist Russia, projecting imperial court culture and sovereign power onto a fantastic canvas.

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