The Nutcracker is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman and set to the timeless music of Peter Tchaikovsky. It was first performed in 1892 by the Kirov Ballet, with choreography by Marius Petipa -- who also choreographed Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote. But the version that we are most familiar with is the one choreographed by the Kirov-trained George Ballanchine in 1954.
The story begins in the home of Clara Stahlbaum, where a Christmas party is about to begin. Merrymaking begins as the guests arrive, but everyone becomes startled when Clara's godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, sweeps in wearing a dark cape and an eye patch. Drosselmeyer is a toymaker, and he brings a soldier and ballerina to life to the amazement of the guests.
Next he presents Clara with his most special gift -- a wooden nutcracker. Clara and her brother, Fritz, start fighting over the new toy and it falls on the floor and breaks. Drosselmeyer mends the nutcracker, and soon after, the guests depart.
Later that night, Clara steals down from her room to catch a glimpse of the nutcracker by the Christmas tree. Suddenly she is attacked by an army of rats, but her brother's toy soldiers come to life to fight them off. The Nutcracker also comes to life and kills the rat king, saving Clara's just in time.
When the battle is over, the Nutcracker takes Clara on a sleigh through a snow-covered forest and they sail off to The Land of the Sweets. There, the Nutcracker and Clara are treated to dances from all over the world. The Sugarplum Fairy and her cavalier dance at the end of the celebration, and they give a farewell to Clara and the Nutcracker.
Since the ballet is performed by so many different companies around the world every year, each version is slightly different. For instance, sometimes Clara is referred to as Marie, and other times the Nutcracker turns into a handsome prince when he comes to life. In some productions, the dances in Act II are divided up by ethnicity, such as Chinese, Arabian, Spanish and Russian. Others productions arrange the dances in the Nutcracker Suite by their corresponding food: Chinese is tea, Arabian is coffee, Spanish is chocolate and Russian is candycanes.
In every scenerio, however, the underlying story, and especially the music, remains the same -- which is why it remains a beloved holiday classic.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times