The Nutcracker Ballet is based on the story “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” written by E.T.A. Hoffman. Although what is seen on the stage today is different in detail from the original story, the basic plot remains the same; the story of a young girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and his fierce battle against the menacing Rat King.
When Marius Petipa had the idea to choreograph the story into a ballet, it was actually based on a revision by Alexander Dumas, a well-known French author. His version reflects more of what we have come to love as the Nutcracker Ballet.
It is Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum house — a large and grand home with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. The Stahlbaums are hosting their annual Christmas party, but before the rest of the guests arrive, Drosselmeyer shows the Head Maids the magic Nutcracker doll he has brought as a present for one very special child. He enlists help with the evening’s events and soon the party is full of the cousins dancing, adults mingling (and being swept away in the occasional dance), while the maids go about the business of the evening.
The party grows more and more festive with music and dance as the Stahlbaum’s deliver gifts to the children. Drosselmeyer then draws everyone’s attention as he presents life-size dolls to perform for the guests. They are the delight of the party, each taking a turn to dance, and the children all taking their turn to admire.
Drosselmeyer presents something special to the Stahlbaum children. To Fritz he gives a simple rat, but to Clara he gives a beautiful Nutcracker doll which quickly becomes the envy of the other children (most especially Clara’s brother Fritz!). Fritz, jealous and having more spunk than one should have, grabs the Nutcracker from Clara and promptly breaks it. Clara is heartbroken looking nervously on as Drosselmeyer quickly repairs the Nutcracker with a handkerchief.
As the evening grows late, the guests depart and the Stahlbaum family retires for the evening. Clara, worried about her beloved Nutcracker, sneaks back downstairs to check on him; falling asleep with him in her arms. As the night wares on and the clock approaches midnight strange things begin to happen; it is quickly evident Drosselmeyer’s spells did not end with the party. The room fills with an army of mice, led by the regal Mouse Queen, and though she makes her best effort to steal the Nutcracker doll, an enchanted Lady Cadet comes to Clara’s aid and leads an army of toy soldiers into battle. Finally, the Mouse Queen has the Lady Cadet in her grips battling one-on-one; Lady Cadet seems to be no match for the Mouse Queen. Things are looking grim for Lady Cadet and the beloved Nutcracker doll, when Clara makes a final daring charge, hitting the Mouse Queen square on the head with her slipper. This final blow sends the Mouse Queen retreating with her devoted mice at her side.
Finally, the scene settles and an enchanted dancing forest overtakes Clara. She is magically led through the Land of Snow, welcomed by dancing angels, cherubs and snowflakes, and swept away by a most beautiful Snow Queen. The snowflakes guide her journey across the silver blue landscape, to arrive in the Land of Sweets where we catch our first glimpse of the Palace, and the lovely Fleur de Lis who inhabit it.
Clara enters the Palace where she is greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy and a lovely cast of leading ladies. Clara re-tells the story of the daring battle with the army of mice, and the Sugar Plum Fairy rewards her with a celebration of dances. As a finale, the Sugar Plum Fairy herself dances an exquisite solo performance, but as her dance comes to an end, Clara begins to feel strange. Clara’s newfound friends say goodbye and take one final bow, as the magic of the evening begins to fade. The Palace is slips away, and she wakes to find herself once again in her home, her Nutcracker by her side.