The Nutcracker is the last of Tchaikovsky’s three ballets, the others being Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. It was first staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892. The Nutcracker Ballet is based on the story "The Nutcracker and the King of Mice" written by E.T.A. Hoffman, the poet who is the subject of Offenbach’s opera, “The Tales of Hoffman.” Although what is seen on the stage today is different in detail from the original story, the basic plot remains the same: the story of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle against a Mouse King with seven heads.
When Marius Petipa had the idea to choreograph the story into a ballet, it was actually based on a revision by Alexander Dumas, a well-known French author. His version reflects more of what we have come to love as the Nutcracker Ballet. During the creation of the ballet, Petipa flooded Tchaikovsky with detailed instructions about melody, rhythm, and orchestration – all in a passion to correlate the music and choreography. He constantly badgered Tchaikovsky with notes like: “The stage is empty…Clara returns. Eight measures for her tremble of fright, eight for fantastic and dance music. Rest. The clock strikes midnight. After the chimes of the clock a short tremolo. After the tremolo, five measures to hear the scratching of the mice and four measures for their whistling. After the whistling, eight measures of accelerating music ending in a chord.”
Tableau I: The Party Scene
It is Christmas Eve at the Silberhaus house -- a large and splendid dwelling where the most beautiful tree imaginable is being decorated. The Silberhaus family is hosting their annual Christmas party, welcoming the arrival of their family and friends. The children, Clara and Fritz, are dancing and playing as they welcome their friends too.
Silberhaus orders a march to be played, after which the children dance around until everyone is stunned into silence as godfather Drosselmeyer arrives. With a bizarre character and appearance, he is a skilled clock and toy maker and always full of surprises.
Some of the children are at first frightened of him, but Drosselmeyer quickly draws everyone's attention as he presents four life-size dolls. As they are wound up, they are the delight of the party, each taking a turn to dance.
The children begin to open gifts when Drosselmeyer presents his to Clara and Fritz. Although his gift to Fritz is quite nice, he gives Clara a beautiful Nutcracker that becomes the hit of the party. Fritz becomes jealous and grabs the Nutcracker from Clara and promptly breaks it. Clara is heartbroken, but she rescues the Nutcracker, rocks it, and lays it in her favorite doll’s bed, looking on as Drosselmeyer quickly repairs the Nutcracker with a handkerchief he magically draws from the air.
As the evening grows late, the guests depart and the Silberhaus family retires for the evening. As soon as it is quiet, Clara, worried about her beloved Nutcracker, sneaks back to the tree to check on him, falling asleep with him in her arms.
The Fight Scene
As the clock strikes midnight, strange things begin to happen. Twinkling lights are seen and Drosselmeyer’s image appears on the clock face. Clara’s beautiful Christmas tree grows high above her, and the toys around the tree come to life while the room fills with an army of mice, lead by the fierce Mouse King. As the Nutcracker awakens, he leads his army of toy soldiers into battle with the mice. The Mouse King corners the Nutcracker and battles him one-on-one. The Nutcracker seems to be no match for the Mouse King.
The Nutcracker and his army can go on no longer and are in imminent danger of being captured by the mice and their King. Clara makes a final daring charge throwing her slipper at the Mouse King, hitting him square on the head. The Mouse King drops to the floor and the mice run away, carrying off their leader's lifeless body.
Tableau II The Land of Snow
The Nutcracker turns into a handsome Prince, falls on his knees before Clara and begs her to follow him as her takes her on a journey to the Land of Snow, an enchanted forest wonderland where they are welcomed by dancing snowflakes.
Tableau III The Land of Sweets
The Prince escorts Clara to the Land of Sweets where they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Prince tells her about their daring battle with the army of mice and how Clara has saved him. The Sugar Plum fairy rewards them with a celebration of dances.
The Mirliton Dance (sugar candies)
The Russian Dance (Trepak)
The Spanish Dance (chocolate)
The Chinese Dance (tea)
The Arabian Dance (coffee)
The Waltz of Flowers
As a finale, the Sugar Plum Fairy and a Cavalier dance a beautiful Pas De Deux.
The Dream Ends
Clara awakens from her dream and finds herself by her Christmas tree with her beloved Nutcracker.