Prelude: Herr Drosselmeyer’s Workshop
It is Christmas Eve and Drosselmeyer is eagerly working on the toys in his workshop. He hurries to go to his relatives, the Stahlbaums’, Christmas Party. The Stahlbaum family is excitedly preparing for their Christmas party.
Act I, Scene I: The Christmas Party
Herr Von Stahlbaum and his wife welcome all of their guests. Drosselmeyer presents a few of the toys from his toy shop: a beautiful doll that comes to life, dancing; and life-like mechanical toys that perform for the guests. Drosselmeyer’s generosity continues, giving Clara her own special doll: a Nutcracker. In a fit of jealousy, Fritz tears the doll away from Clara and breaks it. Luckily, Drosselmeyer magically repairs it, and Clara happily dances a lullaby for her Nutcracker. After the final dance, the guests leave the party and Clara sneaks back downstairs looking for her precious doll. She finds him and falls asleep on the couch. Drosselmeyer enters again and awakens the room with magic. Clara wakes up, amazed to see this magical world where little mice are everywhere, and her Nutcracker, now life-size, is and standing in his own guardhouse!
Act I, Scene 2: The Battle Scene
After the sweet mice leave, Clara is frightened by the incredible sight of the much larger rats, and with a great boom, the mighty Rat King appears. He demands Clara to marry him, but she refuses. Suddenly, the Nutcracker comes to life and defends Clara. The Nutcracker calls his soldiers to battle, and with their help, Clara and the Nutcracker defeat the Rat King and his rat army.
After their triumph, Clara’s Nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince, thanking Clara for saving his life and offering to take her to his magical kingdom. She agrees, and on their travels through the Snow Kingdom, they meet the Snow Queen and King and watch the Snow Maidens dance.
Act II: The Kingdom of the Sweets
Clara and the Nutcracker Prince finally arrive in the Kingdom of Sweets, and the Prince presents Clara to his royal subjects. The beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy encourages everyone to dance for their guest, Clara. After the celebration ends, Drosselmeyer magically brings Clara back to her living room. She awakens to find her mother looking for her, and cradles her precious Nutcracker as she goes back to bed. “It was all such a wonderful dream,” she thinks, “…or was it?”
Now a holiday classic, The Nutcracker ballet was originally based on the 1816 book, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written by E.T.A. Hoffman.
After this snowy tale’s warm reception and adaptation by Alexandre Dumas, the proverbial stage was set for the inception of the ballet we love today, and Marius Petipa was just the person to champion The Nutcracker’s graceful transition from page to stage.
In 1891, Petipa, the legendary ballet master of the Russian Kirov Ballet, commissioned the famous composer Peter Tchaikovsky to write the score for the ballet based on the fairy tale while he began the choreography. Unfortunately, Petipa soon fell ill, entrusting the rest of the choreography to his assistant, Lev Ivanov. As it always must, the show went on, and The Nutcracker debuted on December 17, 1892, at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.
However, it was not until many Christmases later—in 1954—that Russian dancer, choreographer, and founder of New York City Ballet, George Balanchine, created a full-length version of The Nutcracker and premiered it in the United States on the American Ballet Theatre stage. To this day, ballerinas around the world and in the United States perform many different shades of this red and green classic, but all are centered around the story of a little girl and the magical Kingdom of the Sweets Mr. Hoffman dreamed up so many years ago.