Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holi

The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holi

Chris Barton
Illustrator:  Cathy Gendron 
Nonfiction Picture Book
Millbrook Press, 2015   ISBN: 978-1467721516

Every holiday season ballet companies all over the United States put on performances of The Nutcracker, a holiday tale that was written by E.T.A Hoffman in 1816. Set to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the story was presented as a ballet for the first time in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, but it was not a success. Another production of the ballet in 1919 in Moscow was more popular, but not many people outside of Russia knew about the ballet, let alone saw it being performed.

Then, in 1934, a young dancer and choreographer called Willam Christensen had his ballet students in Portland, Oregon perform selections from The Nutcracker, and at the close of the performance he and his students got a standing ovation. Willam then went on to San Francisco to set up a ballet company there. He was joined by his brother Harold, who, as a dancer, had been helping the third Christensen brother, Lew, with a ballet production in New York City.

Willam soon noticed that Tchaikovsky’s music was popular with San Francisco’s music lovers and so he decided to put together another production of The Nutcracker. This time he would do “the whole shebang.” With the help of two dancers who had performed the full version of the ballet in Russia, Willam set to work.

World War II was raging in Europe, North Africa and in the Pacific, which meant that Willam had to make do with a small budget and a small cast. Many of the dancers played several roles, and their friends and family members helped create the costumes and scenery. In spite of the necessary economies, the production was a success and a holiday tradition was begun.

In this splendid nonfiction picture book, the story of a talented trio of brothers is told and we also find out how they popularized one of the most well-known ballets performed in the world today. Young readers, even those who are not interested in the world of dance, will be fascinated to read about the Christensen brothers and their achievements.