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1001 Stories Collection

The Nutcracker

1001 The Nutcracker
Added on 13th August 2020

Composer Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky
First performed 1892, Maryinski Theatre, St Petersburg

Clara is given a nutcracker in the shape of a soldier. On Christmas Eve he comes to life and takes Clara to a magical kingdom.

Story

The ballet tells the story of Clara, who is given a present of nutcracker in the shape of a soldier by her godfather Drosselmeyer. That night, Christmas Eve, the nutcracker comes alive, overcomes the evil Rat King and his guardians, and leads Clara to a magical kingdom, full of fairies, sweets and dolls. Clara wakes up on Christmas Day, and the mystical land seems to have been a dream. Or was it?

Why we chose it

The Nutcracker has persisted in popularity since it was first performed, and has translated to a variety of art forms: printed fiction, classical music, ballet, film, and even animated cartoon and pop-up books.

It has several elements which have become recognisable story tropes: the inanimate object coming alive, the mysterious slippage between reality and fantasy, and a ‘was it all a dream?’ denouement.

The sensuous images of Land of Snow, the Land of Sweets, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker himself, make this a story for all ages.

Where it came from

E. T. A. Hoffman’s book The Nutcracker and the Rat King (1816) told the story of a girl named Marie. The writer Alexandre Dumas wrote a re-telling of the story in 1844, in which he changed Marie’s name to Clara. It was this version that the ballet was based upon. Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa were the first choreographers.

The music was written by Tchaikovsky, a Russian composer of the Romantic period. Tchaikovsky’s music, with its wonderful tunes and balletic rhythms, is instantly recognisable and has often been quoted in television adverts and the like.

Where it went next

The Nutcracker was first performed in western Europe by the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1934. It is now is performed every year, especially in Europe, America, Canada and Russia, usually as an annual Christmas treat, and continues to be a favourite amongst ballet and classical music audiences.

New productions have been created with new choreography, including by the famous dancer Rudolf Nureyev, for the Swedish Royal Ballet in 1967.

There have been several films made of the story, most recently Disney Studio’s live-action film released in 2018, named The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

Associated stories

The idea of a child walking through a new, dream-like land in which animals, toys and objects are alive and speak and act, is a common one in nineteenth century literature. It has clear resonances in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which marked the beginning of the West’s ‘Golden Age’ of children’s literature. The magic realism of these plots translate perfectly to the majesty of ballet and music. Other famous ballets by Tchaikovsky are Sleeping Beauty (1890), which features an abundance of fairies, and Swan Lake (1875), which tells the story of a princess turned into a swan.

Added on 13th August 2020

Composer Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky
First performed 1892, Maryinski Theatre, St Petersburg