With its child protagonist, dancing sweets, and toys that come to life, The Nutcracker has introduced many children to the world of classical ballet. It continues to be hugely popular, especially as a Christmas production.
The Nutcracker is an adaptation of The Tale of the Nutcracker by Alexandre Dumas, which in turn is an adaptation of ETA Hoffmann’s story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Ivan Vsevolozhsky, director of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg, Russia, commissioned the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa to work together on the ballet.
Act I: The Christmas Party. On Christmas Eve, a group of friends and family gather at the Stahlbaum home. The children, including Clara and Fritz, admire the Christmas tree. As presents are distributed, Drosselmeyer enters. Clara’s godfather, and also a toymaker and magician, gives her a Nutcracker in the shape of a soldier. Her brother Fritz breaks the toy, but Drosselmeyer repairs it.
During the night, Clara returns to the parlour to look at the Nutcracker. The Christmas tree suddenly grows to an enormous size, mice fill the room, and dolls and soldiers grow to life-size. Led by the Nutcracker, they battle with the mice and the Mouse King. Clara throws her slipper at him, giving the Nutcracker the opportunity to stab him and end the battle.
The Nutcracker transforms into a Prince and the parlour fills up with snow as the Nutcracker Prince and Clara depart.
Act II: The Kingdom of Sweets. The Sugar Plum Fairy has ruled in the place of the Nutcracker Prince. To celebrate Clara’s victory over the Mouse King, a selection of sweets and delicacies from around the world dance for her. Two of the most famous entertainments in this section include the Chinese and the Russian Dances. The Sugar Plum Fairy performs her delightful variation and dances a pas de deux with her Cavalier.
Clara finally awakes in her room, uncertain whether her adventure was real or a dream.
Video: The Nutcracker - Act II (Sugar Plum Fairy): Miyako Yoshida, Birmingham Royal Ballet.