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The Nutcracker Challenge: Part I

Parris Whittingham

“Even in the works of the greatest master, the organic sequence can fail and then a skillful join must be made.” – Tchaikovsky

Several months ago, a childhood dream of mine came true. My Mom and I saw the New York City Ballet perform The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. Growing up, I was enchanted by this world of sugar plum fairies, whimsical music and indoor snow. Nearly two decades later, these childhood fascinations were re-energized.

After the show, I became curious about why The Nutcracker is such a commercial success and how it became the most popular ballet in the world. Exploring this story offers deeper understanding about creating a “Nutcracker” within your photography business.

Create Space for Listening
In 1892, the first production of The Nutcracker was staged at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Unlike the production I witnessed at Lincoln Center, the original show was a commercial failure. Critics jeered the choreography as being “amateurish,” “lopsided” and “oversimplified.” They complained that dancers appeared “disorderly” and the production was “unfaithful” to the original story. Despite this dark cloud over the presentation, theater-goers agreed that Tchaikovsky’s original score revealed The Nutcracker’s silver lining.

Deliver within Creative Constraints
Throughout the production, Tchaikovsky resented ballet choreographer Marius Petipa for dictating such a demanding musical score. Petipa insisted on controlling every up and down beat plus the number of bars for each song. At age 52, Tchaikovsky was accustomed to a greater range of creative control. Ironically, these same constraints helped Tchaikovsky realize a solid framework of sound; a structure that choreographers continue to build and that audience members (like me) can feel 120 years later.

Discover Your Secret Sauce
Once complete, critics hailed Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite as “astonishingly rich in inspiration” and “from beginning to end, beautiful, melodious, original, and characteristic.” In short, the secret sauce of The Nutcracker is the music. The score comprises the heartbeat and pulse of the entire production. As a result, nearly all recordings (CDs, DVDs, TV Broadcasts etc.) of the complete ballet present Tchaikovsky’s score exactly as he originally composed it.

Be There and Do The Work
After composing 2 ballets, 4 concertos, 6 symphonies, 10 operas, 3 string quartets and over 100 piano works, Tchaikovsky unknowingly created his most famous work (The Nutcracker Suite) less than one year before he died. From its inception, the production offered viewers a cultural gateway to explore ballet, classical music, romanticism and other fixtures of European aristocracy. As photographers and business owners, many of us aspire to do great work. On a day to day basis, it’s easy to forget that “greatness” and “success” are parts of a process. For example, creating the space for listening allows us to better deliver within our unique project constraints (we all have them…even Tchaikovsky did!) and invest the time to fine-tune our secret sauce. All of this requires you to “be there,” connecting your creative taste with tangible results.

What’s Next? The Nutcracker Challenge: Part 2!

In Part 2 we’ll explore how The Nutcracker spread internationally, became a commercial success and gives valuable lessons for your photography business.

Photo by Jessica Lehrman

About Parris Whittingham

A born New Yorker, Parris is inspired by the soulfulness, wisdom and love of his mother and grandmother.

He leads a passionate team of storytellers & craftspeople to boldly explore remarkable love stories.

Follow his musings on twitter.
Explore the TEDxTalk.

Bio photo by Jessica Lehrman

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!