The Nutcracker Story
The Nutcracker is a classical ballet in two acts – meaning, the dancers tell the story without any dialogue. The music by the Russian composer, Peter I. Tchaikovsky, was written especially for a ballet created by the original French choreographer Marius Petipa in 1892, who based it on a German children’s story by E.T.A. Hoffman. Quite the international collaboration!
Interestingly, it was considered a dud by both the audience and its composer, but has since been performed thousands of times by dance companies around the world. Every ballet company does its own version; the music is generally the same, but the choreography depends on the artistic director’s interpretation, and even the story can change.
Our story in a nutshell
Setting: Early 1900s Germany, Christmas Eve party hosted by Judge Silberhaus, his wife and their children, Clara and Fritz.
At the height of the festivities, a strange gentleman arrives, Uncle Drosselmeyer, Clara’s godfather, bearing gifts. These include:
- A mouse puppet
- 4 dolls in costumes from Russia, China, Spain and Arabia
- 3 life-sized mechanical dolls, Columbine, Harlequin and a soldier
- Toy rifles and swords
- A special gift for Clara, a nutcracker which she loves immediately
As brother Fritz grabs Clara’s nutcracker, he pulls the toy’s head off. Clara is heartbroken, but her uncle repairs it, and she and her friends dance a lullaby with their dolls. The boys cause a disturbance, and all the children are sent out of the room.
Party is over but adventures begin
When all the guests have gone, Clara falls asleep on the sofa with her nutcracker. She is soon awakened by the unusual parlor clock striking midnight. The nutcracker is no longer in her arms and Uncle Drosselmeyer is now atop the clock. The little mice have become huge rats that chase her. When she jumps onto the sofa, they lift it up and fly her around the room. Terrified, she leaps down and is surrounded by the rats. The Christmas tree has grown to an enormous size, and everything in the room has changed.
Exhausted, Clara is almost overcome by the rats, but the now life-sized Nutcracker comes to her rescue. While he keeps the rats at bay with his sword, the terrible Rat King appears out of a hole in the floor. The Nutcracker summons an army of toy soldiers and cavalry, beginning a mighty battle. As the Rat King is about to win, Clara bravely pulls his tail, distracting him long enough for the Nutcracker to deliver the fatal blow.
On to the magical palace
Drosselmeyer then appears and transforms the Nutcracker into a handsome prince. After placing a crown on Clara’s head, he leads them through a snowy forest to the palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where Clara watches the Snow King and Queen dance among the snowflakes.
Christmas angels enter and light the grand ballroom. Heralds announce the citizens from The Land of Sweets: Spain (chocolate), Arabia (coffee) and China (tea and marzipan), and a Russian folk dancer. Little jesters appear from under the skirt of a huge Mother Ginger.
When Clara and the prince enter, they are welcomed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, seated on thrones, and entertained by the dancers. After one final dance, the music fades and lights dim, a shower of pink rose petals covers the scene, and Clara is once again asleep on the sofa.
A wonderful Christmas dream! Or, was it only a dream?