(Photo: Mike Watson/Colorado Ballet)

"The Nutcracker" is far and away the most performed ballet in this country. It’s just not Christmas without the Nutcracker.

But the annual tradition of performing the Nutcracker during the Christmas season only dates back to the 1940s and ‘50s.

Two men who keep the tradition alive at Colorado Ballet are Artistic Director Gil Boggs and Music Director Adam Flatt.

"This score is a miracle, and it's so layered," Flatt says. "It's like those Russian nesting dolls, when there's one after the next, after the next."

(Photo: Mike Watson/Colorado Ballet)

The score feels like a miracle now, but the music flopped at its premiere in 1892. Tchaikovsky went to his grave a year later thinking "The Nutcracker" was a bust.

And still today in Europe and even Russia, finding a performance of "The Nutcracker" at Christmas is no easy task. It turns out Nutcracker mania is an uniquely American phenomenon.

The San Francisco ballet put on a production of "The Nutcracker" at Christmas in 1944, followed a decade later by the New York City Ballet. The rest of the country quickly followed suit.

Today, Boggs says the annual production is as important to Colorado Ballet's bottom line as Black Friday, the start of the holiday shopping season, is to retailers.

"We wouldn't be about to do the things we do ... without the income from 'The Nutcracker.'"

"The Nutcracker" serves another important function besides a financial one. It’s the entry point for most people into ballet.

For children it’s often their first ballet they see. And for pint-sized dancers, it’s most often the first ballet they perform in.

So Clara, her Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy and all that glorious music by Tchaikovsky helps sow the seeds for future ballet audiences, year after year after year.