December 2, 2015

The Nutcracker Ballet


The Nutcracker ballet is a classic piece that is most often preformed at Christmas time by many ballet companies; since its debut in 1892 the ballet has become a beloved piece the world over.

The story of the nutcracker was originally written by Hoffmann in 1819, titled “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. It was later translated and adapted by the French author Alexander Dumas; the new title of the story was “The Nutcracker” and was published in 1844. It absolutely charmed the director of the Imperial Russian Ballet who decided to commission a work based on the story. He hired a French choreographer and his Russian colleague to create the dances for the ballet; they also outlined the stage action to tell the story. The two men even handed over a specific set of instructions on who was to be commissioned as the composer; they chose the great Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky for this task. Hoffmann’s complicated and frightening tale can hardly be recognized in today’s productions of The Nutcracker. Amazingly when the ballet was first performed on the 17 December 1892, in the prestigious Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, it was not at all popular. In fact many people hated the ballet; the only reason it was allowed to continue playing was because Tsar Alexander III approved of it.

The actual story unfolds like this: in Act One, a Christmas Eve party is taking place in Nuremberg, Germany. Many guests and their children arrive at the home of the Stahlbaum family. While the adults decorate the Christmas tree, the children play with toys. The mysterious Drosselmeyer arrives bringing gifts for his godchildren, Clara and Fritz Stahlbaum. Clara immediately falls in love with one of the toys, a wooden nutcracker. When the careless Fritz takes possession of the toy he breaks it, upsetting Clara greatly. The guests depart and the children are sent to bed.

Shortly thereafter, Clara comes back to the drawing room to visit her nutcracker. Clara finds herself reduced to the same size as the nutcracker and her brother’s toy soldiers. Dozens of mice come out of their holes and, led by their king, they attack the soldiers. The Nutcracker rallies the toy soldiers against the mice. As the Mouse King and the Nutcracker fight one another, Clara throws her shoe at the Mouse King, giving the Nutcracker the chance to defeat him. The soldiers win, and the Nutcracker turns into a prince. Out of gratitude for her help, the Nutcracker prince takes Clara on a journey to the Kingdom of Sweets. They pass by fluffy dancing snowflakes as they enter the magic kingdom.

In Act Two, the citizens of the Kingdom of Sweets entertain Clara and the Nutcracker prince. Exotic foodstuffs, such as Arabian coffee and Spanish hot chocolate, dance for them. Even flowers come to life and begin to waltz. Finally, the queen of this enchanted kingdom, the Sugarplum Fairy, dances with the Nutcracker prince. Most versions of the ballet end with Clara returning to her own world, while in others she remains in the Kingdom of the Sweets.

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