It's an unmistakable sound, a can't-miss holiday tradition. It's "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker," with the music of Tchaikovsky and the choreography of the legendary co-founder of the New York City Ballet.

The company has been performing it for nearly 70 years each holiday season.

What You Need To Know

  • There are nearly 50 performances of "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" from the New York City Ballet, at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center 

  • The production debuted in 1954 

  • 90 dancers, 62 musicians, 40 stagehands and more than 125 children, in two alternating casts from the School of American Ballet, make the production possible

  • "The Nutcracker," with music from Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky, was originally performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in December 1892

Associate artistic director and former principal dancer Wendy Whelan said there’s no other production quite like it. She’s danced in “The Nutcracker” countless times during her illustrious career.

“It’s absolutely the best, Balanchine did not hold back on his ideas for this. He was so proud of this ballet,” said Whelan.

NY1 got an exclusive look behind-the-scenes of the ballet, just a half-hour before some 2,000 New York City school children would be introduced to it. As the crew went through a pre-show checklist, director of production Marquerite Mehler was making sure everything works, including, of course, the star set piece, a massive Christmas tree.

“The tree, at the top of the show, is about 14 feet tall, that’s what the audience first sees, and then during the show it grows into a majestic full-grown tree, it ends up being 40 feet tall,” said Mehler, who has been with the company for 28 years.

To make it snow inside the theater, there are three bags above the stage. The bags are full of what appears to the audience as snow, but is actually a different substance.

“Each snow scene you have four people on each one of those bags, pulling the ropes and rocking the bag to let the snow fall,” Mehler said.

Backstage, soloist dancer Ashley Hod rehearsed for her next appearance as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her dance partner, Andrew Veyette, is also her husband. Hod performs in about 20 shows during the 49 performance run.

“There are a lot of different technical elements that come across very seamless and very romantic, but they are actually quite difficult to do and we have a lot of rehearsals to make sure everything goes smoothly in the performance,” said Hod, who grew up in nearby Great Neck, New York.

It’s a ballet that, for both performers and the audience, is all about tradition.

“This ballet, even as an audience member, is passed down from generation to generation, and it’s beloved and it’s a warm experience, a connecting experience,” Whelan said.