is, of course, one of the most famous ballet
s in the world, and an absolutely delightful Christmas
story. The original ballet was a Tchaikovsky/Petipa collaboration (the others being Swan Lake
and Sleeping Beauty
) It follows the magical journey of a girl, Clara, who is given an amazing nutcracker by her Godfather, Dr. Drosselmeyer, for Christmas.
History of the Ballet:
(based on the story by E.T.A. Hoffman
) was first performed in the Maryinsky Theatre
) on December 17, 1892, and was not seen in the West until 1934 when the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company
presented it in London
. The ballet was choreographed by Marius Petipa
, but when he fell ill, his work was entrusted to Lev Ivanov
, his assistant (he also choreographed
Act 2 of Swan Lake
). The music is, of course, by the brilliant and unforgettable Tchaikovsky, and the original designs were by Bacharov
, K. Ivanov
and Ivan Vsevolozhsky
was created in a country where ballet was completely controlled by Tsar Nicholas II
, and the composer, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
had to be creative within extremely strict guidelines at set by Marius Petipa. Petipa was a meticulous and detailed worker, who used small groups of figures moved around a tabletop to choregraph. He began choreographing The Nutcracker
before the music was composed, and sent Tchaikovsky extrememly severe restrictions (and amazingly, Tchaikovsky appeared to be just as creative under these restrictions as he would be on his own, although the score was created during a nervous breakdown), for example (excerpts):
- The President and his wife and guests decorate the tree. (Delicate, mysterious music 64 bars.) 9 o'clock strikes; at each chime of the clock, the owl flaps its wings. Everything is ready and it is time to call the children. (All this takes place during the 64 bars.)
- The fir tree is burning brightly, as if with magic. (modulated music 8 bars).
- The door is thrown open. (Noise and happy music for the children's entrance, 24 bars.)
- The children stop, full of amazement and delight. (A few bars for the children. Tremolo.)
- The President orders a march to be played. (March 64 bars). Each child receives a present. All takes place during the march.
- a) (Gallop for the children. 48 bars.)
b) Entrance of the guests dressed very grandly. (16 bars for entrance. Then a rococo dance. Tempo di Minuet. 'A good journey on the road to Du Mol'.)
- General amazement at the appearance of the Counsellor Drosselmyer. (At his entrance the slock strikes, the owl appears to flap his wings. The music becomes, by degrees, a little more frightening and even comic. A broad movement from 16 to 24 bars.) The children, frightened, hide their heads in their parents' dresses. They are pacified, seeing that he brings some toys. Here the character of the music changes gradually. (24 bars, the music becomes less dull, more clear and finally changes to joy.)
Clara and her brother, Fritz, could have burst from excitement. It was Christmas Eve
, and the house looked spectacular, with a beautiful Christmas Tree
covered in lights and sheltering mysterious parcels. Their father, Kommandant Silberhaus, and his wife were holding a party for the family's friends, and everybody was enjoying themselves. Soon, too, their Godfather Dr. Drosselmeyer would arrive! He would undoubtedly bring some wonderful presents for the children - he had been a clockmaker
for years, and could make the most amazing mechanical toy
But Dr. Drosselmeyer actually had a secret sadness in his past. A long time ago, when he was still working as a clockmaker, he had been employed by the Royal Palace
during a mice plague
. The Palace, in an uproar, had tried everything to rid themselves of the mice
invasion, and nothing had worked... until Dr. Drosselmeyer had invented a clever mechanical trap. Soon, half of the Palace mouse population had been caught! But although the Palace was delighted with this victory, the Mouse Queen was furious, and in a fit of revenge, she turned Dr. Drosselmeyer's nephew into an ugly nutcracker soldier doll with her magic
. The spell was very powerful, and in addition, was nearly impossible to break as it was in two parts. To be returned to his natural state once more, the nutcracker doll had to a) kill the Mouse King and b) make a young girl love him even though he was ugly.
Dr. Drosselmeyer, however, had a plan. He knew a caring young girl - perhaps this Christmas, Clara, his sweet Goddaughter, would be able to love the ugly doll? And the Mouse King
with his army would undoubtedly be tempted out of their holes tonight, given the amount of food lying around. So he set out for the party, with hope in his heart for his nephew's salvation.
Dr. Drosselmeyer arrived at the party at about nine o'clock, with life-sized mechanical dolls to entertain the party guests, and presents for the children that did not disappoint! By now, it was ten o'clock, and the evening was suddenly drawing to a close. Clara, who had been getting very over-excited by the party, began to cry with disappointment - everything was finishing just when it had become exciting! Dr. Drosselmeyer took Clara to one side, and reassured her. "Look, my dear, I have another present for you!" he told her, pulling the nutcracker doll
out of his pocket with a flourish and presenting it to the enchanted girl. Clara was delighted, and danced around the room with the doll, while Fritz watched in jealousy. Why should Clara get an extra present? He chased after Clara, and snatched the nutcracker, refusing to give it back. Clara was furious, and attempted to get the doll back, but Fritz threw the doll across the room. When Clara ran and picked it up, the little soldier
doll was broken.
Now it was bedtime. Clara and Fritz bade the guests goodbye, and Clara gave Dr. Drosselmeyer a specially big hug. "Don't worry, little Clara," he said, "Your doll with be better soon." Soon, everybody had left,and the house was quiet and dark. Only the Christmas tree still sparkled. Clara crept back downstairs shortly after she had gone to bed - she wanted to find the poor doll and take it back upstairs to bed with her. The poor ugly thing was broken, but her kind heart would not let her forsake it. Where had it gone? Oh, there it was! Clara sat on the couch, sleepily holding her doll and deciding not to go back upstairs quite yet. Soon, she was asleep
Dr. Drosselmeyer, unknown to the sleeping Clara, had quiety slipped back into the house. Sneaking into the room where Clara lay, he silently moved into the shadow
s to watch. Suddenly Clara woke with a start. What was happening? The lights of the tree were flickering madly and mysteriously, and it was growing bigger and bigger! The room, too, was fading away, but she didn't notice this due to her preoccupation with the tree. Was she awake or dreaming? And... where was her nutcracker?
The room was still silent. Suddenly, in the shadows, there was a flurry of movement. Clara was frightened. Then she looked under the Christmas tree, and saw with a shock that a war was on. A host of ferocious mice were battling some outnumbered toy soldier
s... led by the nutcracker soldier! Clara was amazed, and blinked several times. She must be dreaming! No... she was not dreaming - this was actually happening! She watched the intense battle, the flashing sword
s, the nobility of the outnumbered toys, and realised with a fright that the poor nutcracker was being forced into a corner by the Mouse King. The nutcracker, Clara realised, had already been hurt tonight - she couldn't bear the thought of him being hurt again. She took her slipper
from her foot, and threw it at the Mouse King. It was an accurate throw, and the Mouse King was hit on the head, and fell, sending his troops
scattering in disarray back to their holes carrying his body.
The nutcracker crossed the room with a graceful march, and she realised with a shock that he was now almost as tall as a real soldier, and actually very handsome. "Thank you for saving my life," he said, "And for releasing me from the Mouse Queen's spell." He bowed low to Clara with respect, and as he did so, the darkness began to lift, and snowflake
s began to fall delicately. They were in a forest! Dr. Drosselmeyer had sent the pair on a magical journey in reward for their bravery.
Suddenly, the pair noticed a couple approaching them - the King and Queen
were arriving to greet them and guide them through the forest to the Land of Sweets. Soon, they were in the Land of Sweets, and everywhere Clara looked there were sweets: sugar snow, spun sugar ice, trees and a palace made with gingerbread, nut, chocolate, marzipan, ice cream and toffee! When they arrived at the royal palace of the Kingdom of Sweets, Clara and the nutcracker soldier were greeted by lavish celebrations and a beautiful fairy
dressed in pink spun sugar and wearing a dazzling iced-sugar crown
(this was the Sugar Plum Fairy). Clara was seated in a throne
of sweets, and the members of the court presented their entertainments. Mechanical dolls presented a chocolate
dance, then two Arab dolls performed a coffee
dance. Next were some Chinese dolls dancing a tea dance, and then Clara was delighted by a Russian folk dance. The next act was danced by flowers made with spun sugar
, and finally, best of all, was the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
and her prince
. Then all the dancers joined together in a joyous celebrations, whirling, shimmering, colourful, magical and flowing. Slowly, the lights dimmed, and the music grew fainter...
Clara was on the sofa, blinking rapidly. Had the events of the night been a magical dream? Smiling happily, Clara drifted off to sleep, wondering where her nutcracker doll had gone. In the shadows, Dr. Drosselmeyer smiled exhaustedly and contentedly. It had taken a lot of effort to protect Clara from harm, to break the spell and reward the pair... but had he saved his nephew?
When Dr. Drosselmeyer returned home, dawn was breaking on Christmas Day, and back at the Kommandant's house, the children were waking. The clockmaker opened the door to his workshop, and there, there on the table, was the sleeping figure of his nephew! It had not been a dream – and now, Dr. Drosselmeyer's work was completed, thanks to the kind heart of a little girl.
Ballet Synopsis (verbatim from my programme as performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet):
Scene One - The Party:
It is Christmas Eve and a party is being held by Kommandant Silberhaus and his wife. Their chilren, Clara and Fritz, are filled with excitement, especially when their
Godfather, Dr Drosselmeyer arrives with life size mechanical dolls to entertain everyone.
Drosselmeyer gives Clara a nutcracker in the form of a mechanical soldier. She is fascinated by this strange gift.
Scene Two - The Battle:
All the guests have departed. Clara is alone in the darkened rooms and is scared by apparition
s. huge mice and their king fight a battle with toy soldiers who are led by the Nutcracker. Seeing the evil Mouse King about to slay the Nutcracker, Clara bravely runs to the rescue. Instantaneously the Nutcracker doll is transformed to a living man. Watched over by Dr Drosselmeyer, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince (for he is in reality a prince) embark on a magical journey.
Scene Three - the Land of Snow:
The Nutcracker Prince and Clara enter the icy domain of the Snow Princess
es, who dance surrounded by the snow fairies. Dr Drosselmeyer looks on.
Act Two - The Realm of the Sugar Plum Fairy:
Clara's strange journey continues and Dr Drosselmeyer conjures some beautiful flowers who guide Clara and the Prince to their destination - the realm of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Fairy is delighted by the safe return of her Prince and a celebration is held in honour of their visitor. Clara is entertained by dances from exotic countries and she joins the Flowers in a waltz. A shimmering pas de deux
by the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince brings the magic to an end. Clara finds herself back at home with her Nutcracker doll-was it all a dream?.....Dr Drosselmeyer steals away through the snow.
I first saw this ballet as a young child, in the days preceeding Christmas. I was captivated by the delicate and deliberate moves of the dancers, and have loved this ballet ever since - it is utterly magical! I strongly recommend it to anybody considering seeing it.