Always drowning in self-doubt concerning his creations, Tchaikovsky had little hope for the success of his ballet The Nutcracker, which the Maryinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg commissioned in 1891 in hopes of capitalizing on the recent success of his Sleeping Beauty. The Nutcracker was beset by delays and production squabbles, and it did not score a success when it was unveiled the following year. Not until the mid-20th century did it gain a toehold in the repertoire, but after that rough start it snowballed in popularity to become what must be the most frequently produced of all ballets. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet offers its annual staging of this classic in four performances at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco St.): at 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21, and at 1 and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22. Although the group dances to a recorded soundtrack, the choreography (by the company’s artistic director Tom Mossbrucker and executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty) generously puts some 60 dancers on the stage, including many youngsters from the company’s school. Tickets ($36 and $55) are available through www.ticketssantafe.org and by calling 505-988-1234.