The Nutcracker has become the most popular ballet of our times. It was first presented in 1892 at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. The ballet was an adaptation of the 1816 story by E. T. A. Hoffman, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The Nutcracker was choreographed by Lev Ivanov with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Marius Petipa, the reigning choreographer at the Maryinsky, fell ill, so the job passed to Ivanov. Tchaikovsky only reluctantly accepted the commission to compose the score which, when completed, he considered "infinitely worse than 'Sleeping Beauty'." At the premiere, the ballet was deemed a complete failure. More than 60 years and many productions would pass before The Nutcracker would become a staple of the repertoire in ballet companies around the world and one of the universal traditions of the holiday season.
Guests are arriving for a holiday party at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum and their children, Clara and Fritz. Clara's godfather, the eccentric Herr Drosselmeyer, arrives with toys for all the children and a mysterious vision of something special in store for Clara. With the party in progress, Drosselmeyer produces another wonderful surprise, life-size dolls who dance to the children's delight. He then presents Clara with a special gift, a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a soldier, a strange gift for a little girl; but Clara falls in love with the doll and proudly shows it to everyone. Fritz, wanting the Nutcracker for himself, accidentally breaks the doll. Clara is heartbroken, but Drosselmeyer fixes the Nutcracker, to everyone's relief. As the party comes to an end, the Stahlbaum children are sent off to bed. Clara, however, is too excited to sleep, and she sneaks downstairs to be with her new Nutcracker doll. Strange things begin to happen. Huge mice almost as big as she, scurry across the floor. The clock strikes midnight and her whole house begins to transform. The Christmas tree grows to an enormous size, and a great battle ensues between the mice, led by the Mouse King, and the Nutcracker, now life-sized, leading an army of toy soldiers. It looks as though the Mouse King might win the battle when, just in time, the Nutcracker is victorious. The Nutcracker transforms into a Prince and leads Clara on a fantastic journey which begins in the wintry Kingdom of Snow where she is greeted by the Snow Queen. In the final tableau, the entire Snow Kingdom sends Clara on to the Sugar Plum Fairy's palace in the magical Land of the Sweets.
(INTERMISSION- 20 minutes)
The scene opens in the palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy where everyone is gathering to welcome Clara. As the Angels move about the palace, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier meet Clara and the Nutcracker Prince and call all the characters to enter for a royal greeting. The Nutcracker Prince re-enacts the battle for all assembled showing how the fearless Clara helped to defeat the Mouse King. Then the Sugar Plum Fairy arranges a great party with grand entertainment. Dancers from far-away places Spain, Arabia and Russia have come to perform for Clara. The Mirletons dance, Mother Ginger is there with her 16 children, and there is even a dancing Dragon all the way from China! The Dew Drop Fairy leads the beautiful Waltz of the Flowers, and then the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform the most beautiful dance of all. Finally, all the characters gather to say goodbye to Clara and send her on her journey home.