The plot of Hoffmann's original story is much more complex than that of the ballet, in which events had to be considerably simplified; Hoffmann's tale contains a long flashback story within its plot entitled The Tale of the Hard Nut, explaining how and why the Prince was turned into the Nutcracker. In Hoffmann's original version, the heroine Marie's adventures with the toys and with the Nutcracker are not a dream, and the Nutcracker does not turn into a Prince after his battle with the Mouse King, but at the end of the story - after Marie tells the now inanimate Nutcracker that she would love him even if he remained ugly forever. A year and a day after she declares this, the Prince returns to Marie and asks her to marry him. She accepts, and goes back to reign with him in the Doll Kingdom.
In Western countries, The Nutcracker has become perhaps the most popular of all ballets, performed primarily during the Christmas season. In the United States, especially since the 1960s, it has transcended its origins as a mere ballet or piece of classical music, becoming a part of American tradition almost as much as the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Countless cities across the U.S. now stage the ballet at Christmas time, and new telecasts, video versions and interpretations of the ballet now appear even more often than before. There are several versions of the ballet now on DVD that have never been telecast in the U.S. Its music, especially the music of the suite derived from the ballet, has become familiar to millions all over the world. And because of the ballet's fame, Hoffmann's original story on which it is based has also become well known, and has been made into an animated feature film several times.
Tchaikovsky made a selection of eight of the numbers from the ballet before the ballet's December 1892 premiere, forming The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, intended for concert performance. The suite was first performed, under the composer's direction, on 19 March 1892 at an assembly of the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. The suite became instantly popular (according to Men of Music "every number had to be repeated"), but the complete ballet did not begin to achieve its great popularity until after the George Balanchine staging became a hit in New York City.
Among other things, the score of The Nutcracker is noted for its use of the celesta, an instrument that the composer had already employed in his much lesser known symphonic balladThe Voyevoda (premiered 1891). Although well-known in The Nutcracker as the featured solo instrument in the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Act II, it is employed elsewhere in the same act.
(left to right) Lydia Rubtsova as Marianna, Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, and Vassily Stukolkin as Fritz, in the original production of The Nutcracker. Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, 1892
Tchaikovsky himself was less satisfied with The Nutcracker than with The Sleeping Beauty, his previous ballet. (In the film Fantasia, commentator Deems Taylor observes, very accurately, that he "really detested" the score.) He accepted the commission from Ivan Vsevolozhsky, however did not particularly want to write it (though he did write to a friend while composing the ballet: "I am daily becoming more and more attuned to my task.")
While composing the music for the ballet, Tchaikovsky is said to have argued with a friend who wagered that the composer could not write a melody based on the notes of the scale in an octave in sequence. Tchaikovsky asked if it mattered whether the notes were in ascending or descending order, and was assured it did not. This resulted in the Adagio from the Grand pas de deux of the second act, which traditionally is danced just after the Waltz of the Flowers.
A story is also told that Tchaikovsky's sister had died shortly before he began composition of the ballet, and that his sister's death influenced him to compose a melancholy, descending scale melody for the adagio of the Grand Pas de Deux.
Olga Preobrazhenskaya as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche in the Grand pas de deux in an early production of The Nutcracker. Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, c. 1900
St. Petersburg Premiere
The first performance of the ballet was held as a double premiere together with Tchaikovsky's last opera, Iolanta, on 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. The ballet libretto was by Marius Petipa. Who exactly choreographed the first production has been debated. Petipa began work on the choreography in August 1892; however, illness removed him from its completion and his assistant of seven years, Lev Ivanov, was brought in. Although Ivanov is often credited as the choreographer, some contemporary accounts credit Petipa. The original production of The Nutcracker was conducted by Riccardo Drigo, with Antoinetta Dell-Era as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Pavel Gerdt as Prince Coqueluche, Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, Sergei Legat as the Nutcracker-Prince, and Timofei Stukolkin as Drosselmeyer. The children's roles, unlike many later productions, were performed by real children rather than adults (Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, and Vassily Stukolkin as Fritz), students of Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg. Alas, the first performance of The Nutcracker was not deemed a success.
In other countries
An abridged version of the ballet was first performed outside Russia in Budapest (Royal Opera House) in 1927, with choreography by Ede Brada. The first complete performance outside Russia took place in England in 1934, staged by Nicholas Sergeyev after Petipa's original choreography. Another abridged version of the ballet, performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was staged in New York City in 1940 by Alexandra Fedorova (not to be confused with the university teacher of the same name) - again, after Petipa's version. The ballet's first complete United States performance was on 24 December 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet, staged by its artistic director Willam Christensen. The New York City Ballet gave its first annual performance of George Balanchine's staging of The Nutcracker in 1954. The tradition of performing the complete "Nutcracker" at Christmas eventually spread to the rest of the United States.
Note: The two lists of characters below are derived from the score (see reprint of Soviet ed.: Peter Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker: a ballet in two acts. For piano solo. Op. 71. Melville, N.Y.: Belwin Mills Publ. Corp., [n.d.], p. 4). Productions of the ballet vary in their fidelity to this assignment of rôles.
Characters (translated from Russian preliminaries of the Soviet ed.)
President Stahlbaum [Silberhaus]
Clara [Marie] [Masha] [Maria] ("Клара [Мари]" in the score)
Marianna, the President's niece
Councilor Drosselmeyer, Godfather of Clara and Fritz
Relatives, guests, people in costume, children, servants, mice, dolls, hares, toys, soldiers, gnomes, snowflakes, fairies, sweets, pastries, sweetmeats, moors, pages, princesses, retinues, buffoons, shepherdesses, flowers, etc.
The following more detailed, and somewhat different, extrapolation of the characters (in order of appearance) is drawn from an examination of the stage directions in the score (Soviet ed., where they are printed in the original French with added Russian translation in editorial footnotes):
Clara and Fritz [children of the President]
Parents dressed as "incroyables"
Harlequin and Columbine, appearing out of a cabbage [1st gift]
Soldier, appearing out of a pie or tart [2nd gift]
Nutcracker [3rd gift, at first a normal-sized toy, then full-sized and "speaking", then a Prince]
Owl [on clock, changing into Drosselmeyer]
Sentinel [speaking rôle]
Soldiers [of the Nutcracker]
Sugar Plum Fairy
Eminent members of the court
Performer(s) for Spanish dance
Performer(s) for Arab dance
Performer(s) Chinese dance
Performer(s) Russian dance
Performers for dance of the reed-flutes (= Fr. "mirlitons"; Russ. = "пастушки", shepherdesses)
Buffoons (= Fr. polichinelles)
Prince Orgeat [Koklyush]
Konstantin Ivanov's original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker (1892)
The story has been published in many book versions including colorful children-friendly versions. The plot of the ballet revolves around a German girl named Clara Stahlbaum or Clara Silberhaus. In some Nutcracker productions, Clara is called Marie; in others, she is known as Masha. (In Hoffmann's tale, the girl's name actually is Marie or Maria (equivalent to Masha in Russian), while Clara - or "Klärchen" - is the name of one of her dolls.)
Although several productions of the work greatly change the ending of the ballet, its basic plot very frequently remains the same. The work opens with a brief "Miniature Overture", which also opens the Suite derived from the ballet. The music sets the fairy mood by using upper registers of the orchestra exclusively. The curtain opens to reveal the Stahlbaums' house, where a Christmas Eve party is under way. Clara, her little brother Fritz, and their mother and father are celebrating with friends and family, when Clara's mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, (affectionately known as "Uncle") enters. He quickly produces a large bag of gifts for all the children. All are very happy, except for Clara, who has yet to be presented a gift. (In Vasily Vainonen's 1934 production of the ballet, and in Mikhail Baryshnikov's version, Drosselmeyer then stages a puppet show, in which a Prince duels with and kills a Mouse King, winning the hand of a beautiful Princess. The show foreshadows the fantasy events of the ballet, which will take place later on that night.)
Herr Drosselmeyer has brought to the party three life-size dolls, which each take a turn to dance. When the dances are done, Clara approaches Herr Drosselmeyer asking for her gift. It would seem that he is out of presents, and Clara, in some productions, runs to her mother in a fit of tears and disappointment. In others, she is still quite happy; in Baryshnikov's production, she gently hints to Drosselmeyer that she would like a toy.
Drosselmeyer then produces a Nutcracker, in the traditional shape of a soldier in full parade uniform. The other children reject it, so he gives it to Clara. Clara is overjoyed, but her brother Fritz is jealous, and breaks the Nutcracker.
As the party ends, Tchaikovsky quotes the traditional German dance tune, the Grossvater Tanz (Grandfather's Dance), and the Stahlbaum family go to bed. (In the Balanchine version, while everybody is sleeping, Herr Drosselmeyer repairs the Nutcracker, but in most productions, he simply binds it with a handkerchief during the Christmas party.)
After everyone is asleep, Clara creeps downstairs to have a look at her beloved Nutcracker. When the clock strikes midnight, she hears the sound of mice. She wakes up (or is she still dreaming?) and tries to run away, but the mice stop her. In most productions, the Christmas tree suddenly begins to grow to enormous size, filling the room. The Nutcracker comes to life, he and his band of soldiers rise to defend Clara, and the Mouse King leads his mice into battle. Here Tchaikovsky continues the miniature effect of the Overture, setting the battle music predominantly in the orchestra's upper registers.
A conflict ensues, and when Clara helps the Nutcracker by throwing her shoe at the Mouse King, the Nutcracker seizes his opportunity and stabs him. The mouse dies. (In some productions, she merely grabs the Mouse King by the tail, and in others Clara kills the Mouse King when she throws her slipper at him.) The mice retreat, taking their dead leader with them. The Nutcracker is then transformed into a prince. (In Hoffmann's original story, and in Peter Wright's Royal Ballet 1985 version, the Prince is actually Drosselmeyer's nephew, who had been turned into a Nutcracker by the Mouse King, and all of the events following the Christmas party have been arranged by Drosselmeyer in order to break the spell.)
Clara and the Prince travel to a world where dancing Snowflakes greet them and fairies and queens dance, welcoming Clara and the Prince into their world. This sequence is frequently called either Journey Through the Snow or A Pine Forest in Winter. In many productions, the Snow King and Queen do not appear and dance this sequence, and it is Clara and the Prince who dance it. The score conveys the wondrous images by introducing a wordless children's chorus during the Waltz of the Snowflakes, which is danced by snowflakes transformed into human form. The curtain falls on Act I.
Konstantin Ivanov's original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker, Act II (1892)
Clara and the Prince arrive at the Kingdom of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Fairy and the people of the Kingdom of Sweets perform several dances for Clara and the Prince - a Spanish Dance, a Chinese Dance, an Arabian Dance, a Russian Dance, the Dance of the Clowns, the Dance of the Reed Flutes, the Waltz of the Flowers, and the Grand Pas de Deux, which includes the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The dances in the Kingdom of Sweets are not always performed in this order.
The dances are sometimes given different names - for instance, sometimes the Dance of the Reed Flutes is the Dance of the Shepherds, and in Balanchine's production, the Spanish Dance, the Arabian Dance, the Chinese Dance and the Russian Dance are renamed Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, and Candy Canes respectively. Balanchine calls the Dance of the Reed Flutes the Dance of the Marzipans, but lets the Waltz of the Flowers and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy retain their original names.
After the Grand Pas de Deux, everyone dances a joyous Final Waltz, and then the ballet usually ends with Clara waking up under the Christmas tree with the Nutcracker toy in her arms. However, according to the book Nutcracker Nation, the original ballet story had Clara, danced by then twelve-year-old Stanislava Balinskaya, staying on to rule the kingdom with her Prince, whom she supposedly married sometime in the future.
In Balanchine's version of the ballet, as in Petipa's original libretto, the fantasy events are apparently not a dream; instead, after all the dances in the Kingdom of Sweets have concluded, Clara (Marie in this case) rides off with the Nutcracker/Prince on a Santa Claus-like flying sleigh, complete with reindeer, and the curtain falls. We are not told of their final destination, but in some plot summaries, the Prince presumably takes Marie back home. This ending is a variation on Hoffmann's original story and the original ballet libretto.
Peter Wright's 1985 Royal Ballet version also seems to imply that the fantasy events actually do take place, since at the end, Drosselmeyer's nephew, who had really been transformed into a nutcracker, reappears in human form at the toymaker's shop.
Drosselmeyer's nephew, in human form, attends the Christmas party in Balanchine's "Nutcracker", and he, along with the Nutcracker and the Prince, are all played in the 1993 film version of the Balanchine production by Macaulay Culkin. And in the 1958 telecast of the Balanchine version, it is clearly stated that the nephew and the Prince are one and the same person.
NB Up until 1991, the original plot of the ballet had largely been faithfully followed in stagings, but over the last nineteen years or so, several choreographers have staged their own very radical re-interpretations of the story, sometimes dispensing completely with the original plotline. The Nutcracker is, so far, the only one of Tchaikovsky's three ballets which has been subjected to so many radically different treatments. There have been some radically different treatments of Swan Lake as well, but so far, not as many as of The Nutcracker. Most of the versions described below, however, use the original plot.
Vasily Vainonen — 1934
In 1934, Russian choreographer Vasily Vainonen staged his complete version of the ballet in the U.S.S.R., in which Clara is called Masha, and is played by an adult dancer. It uses the original plot, and follows standard nineteenth-century tradition in having all the children at the Christmas party played by adult women, although contemporary photos reveal that the original 1892 Nutcracker did use children in the cast. Unlike the original production, Vainonen omitted the Sugar Plum Fairy altogether and made Masha's story a romantic awakening. In his version, as in Baryshnikov's, it is the Nutcracker / Prince himself who rules over the Kingdom of Sweets. Drosselmeyer's rôle also became more prominent. In this version, the ballet was presented in three acts rather than two, and Masha's adventures with the Nutcracker/ Prince are all a dream. The Vainonen production was revived in 1954 and probably was as influential in Europe as the Balanchine production was in the U.S.[neutrality is disputed]
In 1992 a special Vainonen staging in the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg commemorated the 100th anniversary of the ballet's premiere. In 1994, with sets and costumes first used in its 1954 revival, the Vainonen version was staged again in the Mariinsky Theatre. This 1994 staging with the Kirov Ballet, starring Larissa Lezhnina as Masha, Victor Baranov as the Nutcracker / Prince, and Piotr Russanov as Drosselmeyer, is very slightly cut from the original, and is available on DVD (104 mins) with 5.1 surround sound.
Willam Christensen — 1944
It was not until 24 December 1944 that the first complete production in the U.S., also using the original plot, took place, performed by the San Francisco Ballet, and choreographed by Willam Christensen, who danced the role of the Cavalier.Gisella Caccialanza, the wife of Lew Christensen, danced the rôle of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The staging was a huge success, and one critic wrote: "We can't understand why a vehicle of such fantastic beauty and originality could be produced in Europe in 1892 with signal success [a factually erroneous claim] and never be produced in its entirety in this country until 1944. Perhaps choreographers will make up for lost time from now on."  The company was the first in the U.S. to make the ballet an annual tradition, and for ten years, the only company in the United States performing the complete ballet. They perform it annually to this day, though not necessarily with Christensen's choreography. See the section on Helgi Tomasson below. The stage success of the Christensen version marked the first step in making productions of The Nutcracker annual Christmas season traditions all over the world - a phenomenon that did not really come to flower until the late 1960s.
In 1954 George Balanchine followed in Christensen's footsteps by choreographing and premiering his now-famous New York City Ballet version, adhering closely to the original plot. Balanchine's Nutcracker has since been staged in New York every year and performed live on television twice - although its first television edition, telecast by CBS in 1957 on the TV anthology Seven Lively Arts, was severely abridged. This marked the first telecast not only of the Balanchine version but of any staging of the ballet. CBS's Playhouse 90 broadcast a more complete (but still abridged) version of the Balanchine Nutcracker, narrated by actress June Lockhart, who was then starring as the mother in CBS's Lassie, in 1958; it was the first Nutcracker broadcast in color. There were only four commercial breaks. This television production starred Diana Adams as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Debbie Paine as Clara, and Robert Maiorano as the Nutcracker/ Prince.
The complete Balanchine version was eventually made into a poorly received full-length feature film by Electra Entertainment and Regency Enterprises. It was distributed and released by Warner Brothers in 1993, and starred Macaulay Culkin in his only screen ballet rôle, as the Nutcracker, the Prince, and Drosselmeyer's nephew. The film was directed by Emile Ardolino, with narration spoken by Kevin Kline. From the billing in this film, the Prince and the nephew would seem to be two different characters, though that may not have been what the filmmakers intended. Director Ardolino died of AIDS only a few days before the film's release. The other rôles in the film were played by members of the New York City Ballet, including Darci Kistler as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Damian Woetzel as the Fairy's Cavalier, Jessica Lynn Cohen as Marie (a.k.a. Clara), and Wendy Whelan as Coffee in the Arabian Dance. (93 mins.)
In Balanchine's version, the roles of Clara (here called Marie) and the Nutcracker / Prince are danced by children, and so their dances are choreographed to be less difficult than the ones performed by the adults. Marie does not dance at all in the second act of this version. The Prince's dancing in Act II is limited to the pantomime that he performs "describing" his defeat of the Mouse King. Instead, Marie and the Prince sit out nearly all of Act II watching other dancers perform for them, and unlike most other versions, neither one of them takes part in the ballet's Final Waltz.
Because Marie and the Nutcracker / Prince are played by children in the Balanchine Nutcracker, no romantic interest between them is even implied. Jennifer Fisher, in her book Nutcracker Nation states that because they are children, "they don't end up married and living happily ever after". However, the 1958 Playhouse 90 telecast of the Balanchine Nutcracker, which changed Marie's name back to Clara and stated that the Prince was Drosselmeyer's nephew, had narrator June Lockhart saying at the end that "From that day on, Drosselmeyer's nephew is Clara's Prince and Clara is his Princess, and I need not tell you that they lived happily ever after." And oddly enough, throughout Act II of the 1993 film of Balanchine's version, Marie does wear a veil that resembles a bridal veil.
The Balanchine version uses perhaps more children than any other version. The rôles of Clara and the Nutcracker/ Prince are performed by adults in many other versions, and in these productions of the ballet, there is usually at least a hint of budding romance between Clara and the Prince.
The Journey Through the Snow sequence, traditionally danced by Clara and the Nutcracker immediately after his transformation into a Prince, is not danced at all in the Balanchine version, although the music is played. Instead, Marie faints and falls on the bed after the battle, and the Nutcracker exits. Marie's bed moves by itself across the stage as the music plays, and at its climax, the Nutcracker reappears and through the use of a stage effect, turns into a Prince. He awakens Marie, places on her head the crown that he took from the dead Mouse King, and they exit.
(In the 1993 film of Balanchine's Nutcracker, the bed flies through the air rather than simply moving across the stage. This is achieved by special effects created by Industrial Light & Magic.)
The musical changes in the Balanchine version, along with the action accompanying them, are described below in the section The Music.
Rudolf Nureyev — 1963
In 1963, Rudolf Nureyev created his own version of Tchaikovsky's work with the Royal Ballet, in which he starred with Merle Park as Clara. Nureyev, curiously enough, played the rôles of Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker Prince, but Wayne Sleep actually portrayed the Nutcracker. Some critics considered this a Freudian touch, taking it to mean that it is not the Nutcracker who turns into a Prince, but Drosselmeyer. However, this is not necessarily obvious to viewers of the DVD of this production.
Nureyev, like Vainonen before him and Baryshnikov after him, omitted the Sugar Plum Fairy and gave all of her dances to Clara, and he himself performs the dances usually performed by Prince Koklyush, the Sugar Plum Fairy's partner. However, neither the Prince nor Clara participate in the dances performed for them by the people of the Kingdom of Sweets. In this version, Clara dreams the fantasy sequences.
Nureyev also omits the Mother Ginger and her Clowns dance.
In the Nureyev Nutcracker, the female dancing "doll" that Drosselmeyer presumably brings to the Christmas Party is simply Clara wearing a mask. (No reason is given for this.) When the mask is rudely pulled off by one of the guests, Clara runs off in a fit of tears, but is comforted by both her mother and Drosselmeyer, who then gives her the Nutcracker.
When Clara and the Prince arrive at the Kingdom of Sweets, she is menaced by strange creatures in disguise who are really her own relatives (no reason is given for this). Clara is asked by the Prince to remove their masks; when she does, she is relieved and embraces her relatives.
Clara, in this version, falls asleep in a chair and dreams the fantasy sequences while the Christmas party is still going on. She awakens at the end of the party, somewhat shaken to realize that she was only dreaming. But she embraces the toy Nutcracker in her arms and begins to tend to it the way that one would tend to a doll.
The production was videotaped for British television in 1968 and is available on DVD (100 mins). Nureyev re-staged it for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1988, and that production was also issued on DVD, but is currently out of print. Laurent Hillaire and Elisabeth Maurin starred in this first Paris Opera version. In 2008, this production was staged again by the Paris Opera Ballet, this time with Myriam Ould-Braham as Clara and Jeremie Belingard as both Drosselmeyer and the Prince. This revival of it, unlike Nureyev's 1963 staging, omits the Arabian Dance and positions the Russian Dance (Trepak) in place of it, and includes some changes from the 1963 production in the staging and costume design. In the original 1963 staging of this production, Clara wears what looks like a plain child's dress throughout most of the production, up until the Grand pas de deux. In this revival, she wears a different dress at the Christmas party, and a nightgown throughout the rest of Act I and most of Act II. In the 1963 staging of Nureyev's production, she and the Prince are seen to go backstage during the divertissements, while in this revival of the production, they are very visible onstage throughout the second act. (It is during the Waltz of the Flowers that Clara goes backstage to change into her more formal "Princess" gown and headpiece, but up to then, in the new revival, she and the Prince have constantly been onstage sitting and watching the dances.)
As in the latest revival of the Peter Wright version, (see below) the relationship between Clara and the Prince is made more outwardly romantic in the new revival of the Nureyev production; she lightly kisses the Prince in gratitude right after the Spanish Dance when she sees that it is her relatives (the ones who were wearing the menacing masks) who perform it and all the other divertissements. Again the Mother Ginger dance is completely omitted.
There is so far, no word of a DVD version of this latest revival of the Nureyev version, although most of it can currently be seen on the internet.
Lew Christensen — 1964
In 1965, on New Year's Day, ABC-TV telecast a one-hour abridgement of choreographer Lew Christensen's 1964 version created for the San Francisco Ballet (the choreographer was one of Willam Christensen's brothers). Cynthia Gregory danced the rôle of the Sugar Plum Fairy and dancer Terry Orr was the Snow King. This version has never been repeated on television, was never made available on VHS, and is, as of 2010, still unavailable on DVD.
Yuri Grigorovich — 1966
In 1966, Yuri Grigorovich created his own version of The Nutcracker for the Bolshoi Ballet - a traditional one which follows the usual storyline of the work, with only a very slight variation. Unlike Balanchine, Grigorovich omitted the pantomime that the Prince performs "describing" his defeat of the Mouse King at the beginning of Act II. The first Bolshoi version on video, recorded in 1978 but not released until nine years later in the U.S. on VHS (86 mins)- and ultimately on DVD - starred the husband-and-wife team of Ekaterina Maximova as Maria (a.k.a. Clara) and Vladimir Vasiliev as the Nutcracker / Prince. The revival of this production was released on VHS in 1989, and stars Natalya Arkhipova as Maria and Irek Mukhamedov as the Nutcracker / Prince. It is now available on DVD.
In this version, the story of Maria and the Prince is again enacted as a romance, but only a dream one. Towards the end of the dream, one of the courtiers puts a bridal veil on Maria during the Final Waltz, signifying that she is to marry the Prince, as in Hoffmann's original story, but suddenly, as the Apotheosis begins, she is once again at home in her nightgown and robe; at first apprehensive that the dream has disappeared, and fearing that she has lost her Prince, she suddenly realizes that she still has her Nutcracker, runs over to the toy, and hugs it.
Maria's parents, who are usually very much in evidence during the early part of the Christmas party, are hardly even seen in this version.
As in the Vainonen version, Maria performs the Sugar Plum Fairy's dances, and the Nutcracker / Prince all of Koklyush's. This has apparently become a tradition in Russia.
In this version, all of the toys take part in the Journey Through the Snow sequence, rather than being offstage while Maria and the Prince perform the dance. And, as in the Vainonen version, much of the company also dances along with Maria and the Prince as they perform the Adagio in the Act II Pas de Deux.
In this production, the Mouse King is not killed in the first act, but in the second. He and his army are merely routed in Act I, and they turn up again in Act II, at the point in which the Prince usually performs the pantomime that describes the Mouse King's defeat. At the Kingdom of Sweets, the Mouse King challenges him to another duel; the two then disappear for a few minutes through a trap door in the floor as Maria looks on, horrified. She is greatly relieved when the Prince emerges again with the dead Mouse King's crown in his hand.
Mikhail Baryshnikov — 1976
For many years, the Balanchine Nutcracker was the most popular and influential version in the U.S., but its popularity could be said to have been seriously challenged by the highly acclaimed American Ballet Theatre version choreographed by and starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, which premiered in 1976 at the Kennedy Center, was re-staged for television, first telecast by CBS as a Christmas season special with limited commercial interruption in 1977, re-broadcast by CBS several times, then afterwards many times by PBS, and is now a TV holiday classic. In 1997, a slightly edited version of it was telecast on the A&E Network, as part of their Breakfast with the Arts program. It is one of the few nationally televised versions of the ballet to have become a long-running tradition on television. (Most nationally televised productions of the ballet have been repeated only a few times, soon to be replaced by another production by another ballet company.)
Although the television version of the Baryshnikov Nutcracker was narrated by the offscreen voice of Norman Rose, there was no actual host for the production, except in the Breakfast with the Arts telecast. Later editions, including the most recent DVD version, have removed much of the narration without cutting any of the actual production.
Baryshnikov uses the basic original plot, but like Vainonen and Nureyev, he omits the rôles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Koklyush, and gives their dances to Clara and the Nutcracker / Prince. However, in the Baryshnikov version (as in Vainonen's), they not only perform the entire pas de deux usually danced by the Fairy and Koklyush, but also take part in the Waltz of the Flowers and the Final Waltz. In addition, although the Mother Ginger and her Clowns music is heard, we never see Mother Ginger herself, only four court jesters who perform the dance.
Some of the choreography in the Baryshnikov Nutcracker is influenced by Vainonen's for his 1934 production, although Baryshnikov's version is performed in the traditional two acts instead of three, and Baryshnikov actually uses Vainonen's choreography for the Snowflake Waltz, giving him onscreen credit. The puppet show sequence is also closely based on Vainonen.
As in the Vainonen version, one of the three dancing dolls that Drosselmeyer brings to the Christmas party is a Moor.
The choreography for the Chinese Dance is similar, but not exactly alike, in both the Baryshnikov and Vainonen versions. However, most of the choreography in this version is completely Baryshnikov's, including that for the Act II Pas de Deuxadagio.
In Baryshnikov's version, contrary to what is often written, it is not Clara's brother Fritz who breaks the Nutcracker, but an unnamed drunken guest at the Christmas party who is trying to make the toy "grow" to life-size. He is last seen in "human" form tipsily leaving with the other guests, but eventually becomes the Mouse King in Clara's dream. Fritz is not portrayed as obnoxious or spoiled at all in this production.
Clara, the Nutcracker / Prince, and Fritz are all played by adult dancers in the Baryshnikov Nutcracker, but contrary to what is sometimes written, there are actual children and teenagers in it. However, they appear only during the Christmas party scene (they are played by students of the National Ballet School of Canada).
The ending of the ballet in the Baryshnikov version is more melancholy than in the original 1892 production and in many other versions. Drosselmeyer appears during the adagio of the Pas de Deux, apparently trying to coax Clara back into reality, while she prefers to stay with the Nutcracker / Prince, with whom she is now deeply in love. At the end of the Adagio, she breaks away from Drosselmeyer and goes whirling back into the Prince's arms. Drosselmeyer apparently gives up and it would seem as if the Prince has triumphed, as he and Clara joyously join the others in the Final Waltz. But during the Apotheosis, the entire Royal Court, as well as the Mouse King, who makes a ghostly final appearance, begin to drift away, moving as if they were only mechanical dolls, and Clara searches frantically for her Nutcracker / Prince, who is suddenly nowhere to be found. Suddenly the palatial surroundings are gone and Clara and Drosselmeyer are left alone onstage; she, holding out her hands in supplication, and he, folding his arms, elaborately ignoring her, and walking away. Clara finds herself back in her own home; she walks to the window and gazes wistfully out at the falling snow.
The stage version of this production originally starred Baryshnikov, Marianna Tcherkassky as Clara, and Alexander Minz as Drosselmeyer. However, for the TV version the rôle of Clara went to Gelsey Kirkland, and it is Kirkland, not Tcherkassky, who has been widely seen in this production of the ballet. Because it is one of her few rôles captured on video, Clara is one of Gelsey Kirkland's most widely seen dance performances, and for many, her best remembered.
Except for Tcherkassky, the rest of the cast of this production also appeared in it on television. The television version was not a live performance of the ballet, but a special presentation shot on videotape in a TV studio, with no studio audience, in Toronto, Canada. This permitted far greater freedom of camera movement and more use of different camera angles.
The Baryshnikov Nutcracker has since become both the most popular television version of the work  and a bestselling videocassette and DVD version of the ballet. It usually outsells not only every other video version of The Nutcracker, including the 1993 film of Balanchine's version, but every other ballet video as well. It is still telecast annually on some PBS stations. In 2004, it was re-mastered and reissued on DVD (78 mins) with a markedly improved visual image showing far greater detail and more vivid colors than the rather faded ones of the videocassette version, as well as both 2.0 and 5.1 stereo surround sound that, if not present-day state-of-the-art, was/is far better than its original 1977 monaural audio. It is only one of two versions of the ballet to have been nominated for Emmys - the other was Mark Morris's intentionally exaggerated and satirical take on the ballet, The Hard Nut, telecast on PBS in 1992.Seven Lively Arts, the anthology program on which The Nutcracker was first televised, did win an Emmy for Best New Program of 1957, so one could say that the ballet was included in that win, although the award itself did not specifically say so.
Years later, Alessandra Ferri danced the rôle of Clara in a stage revival of Baryshnikov's production.
Tandy Beal & Company — 1982
American choreographer, director, and circus maestra Tandy Beal first choreographed a new version of The Nutcracker in 1982. At the time, "Dance Magazine" referred to it as the first contemporary version of the ballet. Beal's adaptation, called "Mixed Nutz: The Nutcracker Re-Mixed", combines dance and circus artistry—all performed to original and seasonal songs as well as Tchaikovsky's music sung a cappella by Bay Area vocal ensemble SoVoSó (Soul...Voice...Song)
Pacific Northwest Ballet and Maurice Sendak — 1983
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker, first staged in 1983, and filmed for movie theatres in 1986 under that title (the more familiar poster title is Nutcracker: The Motion Picture), features sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak. It is revived annually onstage in Seattle, Washington. The film version was released nationwide on Thanksgiving Day, in 1986. In the original production and the film, Clara was played by two dancers, the girlish Vanessa Sharp during the Christmas party and the Battle with the Mice, and the adult Patricia Barker throughout the rest of the film - until Clara awakens suddenly from her dream. The Nutcracker and the Nutcracker Prince were also played by two dancers in the film - Jacob Rice before the toy's transformation into a Prince, and Wade Walthall throughout the rest of the film. As in the Baryshnikov, Vainonen, Grigorovich, and Nureyev versions, there is no Sugar Plum Fairy; Clara performs all her dances, and the Nutcracker / Prince all of Kolkyush's. Actress Julie Harris's voice is heard offscreen as Clara in later life, recalling the events of the story.
It should be noted that this version tries to be truer to E. T. A. Hoffmann's original story, complete with its darker aspects and a second act with more context and flavor, although much of that flavor comes from the imaginations of Sendak and choreographer Kent Stowell, rather than from the actual Hoffmann story. The relationship between Clara and the Nutcracker Prince becomes a blossoming romance in this version of the ballet, as in the Baryshnikov one. But unlike the original Hoffmann tale or other stagings of the ballet, the Kingdom of Sweets here becomes a harem, and although Clara gently kisses Drosselmeyer on the cheek after he repairs her Nutcracker during the Christmas party, she seems frightened of him; he comes across as a more ominous figure than usual. The Pasha in the harem, complete with eyepatch, bears an extremely strong resemblance to Drosselmeyer, and in the film version of the Pacific Northwest Ballet production, is apparently more sinister than in the stage one  - there is a strong implication in the movie that he would like to compete with the Prince for Clara's affections. The rivalry between them is very pronounced; at one point, the Prince and the Pasha openly glare at each other in a hostile way. Later, Clara smiles at the Pasha, and the Prince, who notices, is seen to have a quizzical look on his face, as if unsure of the Pasha's intentions.
The Mouse King is not killed in this version, or if he is, it happens offscreen. In the film version of the production, special effects impossible to duplicate onstage are used to show his defeat. When Clara throws her slipper at him, there is a minor explosion and the Mouse King shrinks to the size of a regular mouse (at this point in the film, we see a real mouse, not a puppet, stop-motion doll, or ballet dancer). His cape and crown fall off and he goes scurrying away into what seems like an entrance to a cavern-like area, chased by the Nutcracker. Offscreen, the Nutcracker turns into a Prince. When Clara enters the cavern looking for the Nutcracker, she finds herself in a landscape resembling a beautiful frozen forest, and magically grown to adult size. The Prince is now waiting for her; she realizes that he was once the Nutcracker, and they dance together.
In the stage version of this production, the boat on which Clara and the Prince journey to the Land of Sweets returns at the height of the celebration, but Clara does not wish to leave, so the Pasha sends the boat away without her, something that does not happen in the film version. Onstage, at the end, the Pasha is literally revealed to be Drosselmeyer in disguise, when Clara, in a burst of curiosity, pulls off his eyepatch. She is deeply disturbed by the revelation. The ending of the film version of this production is completely different, and much more sinister. As Clara and her Prince slowly swirl around wrapped in each other's arms while the Apotheosis plays, the Pasha, by a motion of his hand, magically levitates them higher and higher into the air as the other dancers wave goodbye; suddenly, the Pasha points his finger at the couple, which magically causes them to let go of each other. They suddenly begin to freefall in terror, and the Prince again becomes a nutcracker. Just as both are about to hit the ground and presumably be seriously injured or killed, the young girl Clara is jolted awake from her dream; she is still in her own bed. The curtain falls.
In the film version, as if to end on a more upbeat note (no pun intended), we then see the dancers at the harem, ultimately joined, oddly enough by Clara, the Prince, and the Pasha himself, all performing the ballet's Final Waltz, over which appear the film's end credits. (Patricia Barker dances Clara in the closing credits.) 
As in Baryshnikov's version, Mother Ginger herself never appears. The Dance of the Clowns is here turned into a dance for children.
As of 2009, this production is still not on DVD.
Peter Wright — 1985 and 1990
In 1985, dancer-choreographer Peter Wright created a new production heavily based on the 1892 Ivanov original. The Mother Ginger and her Clowns dance, however, was omitted from this production. It was presented at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where it is periodically revived, and it was first shown on television by A&E, with actress Joan Fontaine serving as host. Notable for its elaborate set designs recalling a typical nineteenth-century stage work, the production was revived in 2001, videotaped with a mostly new cast, and again presented on television (this time by PBS, on Great Performances.). This second edition was hosted by Julie Andrews.
These first two versions of the Wright production are available on DVD (99 mins. and 115 mins., respectively).
In 2008, again with a new cast, the production was streamed live to movie theatres in England, and was reportedly presented as a high-definition film in selected theatres throughout the U.S. during the 2009 Christmas season.
Beginning with the 2001 revival, Wright began to incorporate changes into his 1985 staging. The 2001 revival has a somewhat different ending. In the original 1985 version, Drosselmeyer sends Clara and Hans-Peter off on a sleigh after the festivities to an unspecified destination and then, alone, returns to his workshop to find his nephew (Hans-Peter) asleep there - and the spell broken. Their reunion is joyous. But there is no mention or hint afterwards of whether or not Hans-Peter and Clara end up together.
In the 2001 revival, Clara, seemingly having dreamt it all, awakens in front of the tall clock in the Stahlbaums' home, but without her Nutcracker. Apprehensive, she runs out into the snow in her nightgown, when she accidentally meets Hans-Peter, who, under the spell broken by Clara, was the actual toy. Apparently not recognizing her at first, he kindly drapes a cloak over the shivering Clara and asks her directions to Drosselmeyer's workshop; she tells him, and just before he leaves, a look of faint recognition comes over him. Once he is gone and she is about to re-enter her house, Clara suddenly gasps and smiles with delight as she realizes that she is still wearing the locket that the Sugar Plum Fairy has given her- the events of the previous night were real, and the young man whom she presumably just encountered is really the same person whom she had already met and fallen in love with in her "dream", and who was once an enchanted Nutcracker. At the same time, Hans-Peter enters Drosselmeyer's workshop, Drosselmeyer realizes that the spell has finally been broken, and he and Hans-Peter embrace.  Wright re-used this revised ending in the 2008 revival of this production.
An inconsistency in the plot development of this production is that Drosselmeyer, in the "dream" sequence, seems to clearly be aware that his nephew has been changed back from a nutcracker into a human, but is genuinely surprised and overjoyed when Hans-Peter shows up restored to his real self at the workshop in the final scene.
In the 1985 version of the Wright production, Drosselmeyer still seems quite mysterious and eerie (he never smiles at all), but in the 2001 and 2008 revivals of it, he has not only shed his eyepatch, but has been transformed into more of a kindly grandfather-like character.
In the 2001 and 2008 stagings (but not in the 1985 one) Clara and Hans-Peter, prompted by Drosselmeyer himself, take even more of an active part in the dances at the Sugar Plum Fairy's castle than in Baryshnikov's staging; they participate in all the divertissements except for the Arabian Dance, and they also take part in the Waltz of the Flowers. Presumably Wright arranged this so that the couple would not have to merely sit out most of Act II watching other people dance. In Act I the couple also dances in the Snowflake Waltz.
The romantic element between Clara and Hans-Peter is more pronounced in the 2008 filming of the Wright version than in earlier stagings of it. (In the 1985 production, it is so understated that the couple comes across as simply good friends.) Though their relationship remains innocent, it is more affectionate than usual in the 2008 version, which can currently be seen on the internet. The couple shares a kiss several times (they don't in the earlier Royal Ballet versions, although in the 1985 version, before even noticing that his appearance has been completely changed, Clara kisses Hans-Peter's forehead with relief when he begins to revive after the Battle with the Mice). And in the 2008 revival, Hans-Peter sits with his arms around Clara during the festivities at the Sugar Plum Fairy's castle (again, he doesn't in the two earlier Peter Wright - Royal Ballet versions). This might have been done because the earlier productions, especially the 1985 one, did not get across the idea that there was supposed to be just as strong an emotional bond between Clara and Hans-Peter as between Hans-Peter and his uncle Drosselmeyer. One critic commented about the 2008 revival of this Royal Ballet production, "So tender and delirious is the puppy love between Clara and her Nutcracker Prince that it would take a heart of stone not to melt in its presence".
The 2008 revival is scheduled to be released on DVD in the UK in the summer of 2010, but there has been no word up to now of an American release on DVD, in contrast to the earlier two versions of the Royal Ballet-Peter Wright production which have long been available both in the U.S. and England.
Wright also staged another version in 1990 for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, starring Irek Mukhamedov and Sandra Madgwick. In this version, Clara is a ballet student, her mother is a former ballerina,  and once again, her adventures with the Nutcracker / Prince are all a dream. This version is also on DVD.
Mark Morris — 1991
In 1990, Mark Morris began work on The Hard Nut, his version of The Nutcracker, taking inspiration from the horror-comic artist Charles Burns. The art of Charles Burns is personal and deeply instilled with archetypal concepts of guilt, childhood, adolescent sexuality, and poignant, nostalgic portrayals of post-war America.
He enlisted a team of collaborators to create a world not unlike that of Burns’ world, where stories take comic book clichés and rearrange them into disturbing yet funny patterns.
Morris turned to Adrianne Lobel to create sets that would take Hoffmann's tale out of the traditional German setting and into Burns’ graphic, black and white view of things. With these immense sets and scrims, lighting designer James F. Ingalls created a dark world within retro 1960s suburbia and costume designer Martin Pakledinaz created costumes that helped bring to life Burns’ world, described as being "at the juncture of fiction and memory, of cheap thrills and horror." The last of 10 pieces Mark Morris created during his time as Director of Dance at the National Opera House of Belgium, the piece was his most ambitious work to date.
The Hard Nut premiered on January 12, 1991 at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, just short of the 100th anniversary of the creation of Tchaikovsky's classic score. Audiences found it a shocking but exhilarating version of Tchaikovsky's ballet, its impact still felt year after year.[neutrality is disputed] It was chosen the favorite by viewer votes in 2007, 2008, and 2009 in Ovation TV's annual "Battle of the Nutcrackers". Shortly after the premiere, MMDG returned to the United States, having finished their three-year residency at the Monnaie. But the Monnaie seemed the most fitting stage to film the production[why?] so the company returned six months later with film crew in hand for encore performances in Belgium's national opera house that were made available on VHS and Laserdisc. The Hard Nut was released on DVD in 2007.
Graeme Murphy — 1992
Graeme Murphy's version, entitled "Nutcracker: The Story of Clara", was created in 1992 for the Australian Ballet, released on video in 1994, and released on DVD in 2008. It retains Tchaikovsky's music, but throws out nearly all of the original story. In this version, set in the 1950s, Clara is an aging Australian ballerina who recalls her past life in flashback.
Pär Isberg — 1997
Pär Isberg's version for the Royal Swedish Ballet, staged in 1997, uses most of Tchaikovsky's music, but bears little resemblance to the original ballet, although there still is a Mouse King. In this version, it is a charcoal burner who becomes a handsome Prince, and a housemaid falls in love with him and becomes his Princess. Instead of simply Clara visiting the Kingdom of Sweets, it is two children, Lotta and her brother Petter, who do so. (Some of the new libretto is inspired by Elsa Beskow's children's book "Peter and Lotta's Christmas".) 
This version is available on DVD only in Great Britain.
Patrice Bart — 1999
Patrice Bart's version, available on DVD, created for the Berlin Staatsoper, and premiered there in 1999, reworks the story almost completely to have Clara (here called Marie) kidnapped by revolutionaries to the music of the mice attack. She is then adopted by the Stahlbaums, who, in most productions, are her real parents. There, she is snubbed and mistreated, and Drosselmeyer becomes her only friend. The Nutcracker himself hardly appears as a character before his transformation into a prince. At the Christmas party, Drosselmeyer himself performs the third of the dances usually performed by one of the life-sized dolls that he brings to the party in most versions of the ballet. When he brandishes a sword during the dance, Marie becomes quite uneasy, as if the memory of her kidnapping were being triggered by the experience. There are no mice in this version; instead the toys are attacked by what seem to be those same revolutionaries, who again try to carry Marie off, and the Nutcracker does not fight with them. Marie throws, not her shoe, but the actual Nutcracker at them, whereupon they disappear, the Nutcracker becomes life-size, and immediately turns into a prince. The music of the actual battle, having been played already during the kidnapping scene earlier in the ballet, is then omitted and the slow music that accompanies Marie's first dance with the Prince is heard. Drosselmeyer is made into a young man in this version, and he apparently serves at a sort of father figure-psychologist who helps Marie remember and overcome her long-buried memories of the trauma she endured by being kidnapped. This he does by bringing in the revolutionaries again, enabling Marie to drive them off by throwing her toy Nutcracker at them.
In the second act, to the same music that accompanies Marie's first duet with the Prince after the Nutcracker's transformation, Marie is joyously reunited with her real mother. Drosselmeyer and Marie's mother, it seems, are paired off as potential romantic partners, and at the same time, Marie and the Nutcracker / Prince are also romantically paired off. As in the Baryshnikov and Pacific Northwest Ballet productions, there are no Sugar Plum Fairy or Prince Koklyush; their dances are again performed by Marie and the Nutcracker / Prince. As in the Pacific Northwest Ballet production, the Dance of the Clowns is performed by children, and again, there is no Mother Ginger. The finale is unclear about Marie and the Prince's fate, but her mother blesses their apparently forthcoming marriage, after which Drosselmeyer suddenly produces another nutcracker, which emits a strange light from its eyes. Most of the dancers suddenly begin moving like mechanical dolls, and through a cloud of smoke, Marie is seen to be seemingly flying off happily with the Prince, Mary Poppins-like, airborne on a giant umbrella.
Maurice Béjart — 2000
Maurice Béjart's extremely controversial 2000 version, available on DVD (103 mins), throws out the original story altogether, creating all-new characters and including a Freudian mother fixation as the main point of the self-indulgent[neutrality is disputed] story. Here the main character is named Bim, and is intended to supposedly be an autobiographical child figure representing Béjart himself. There are no Drosselmeyer, no Clara, no Sugar Plum Fairy, and no Nutcracker in this production, and Mephisto and Felix the Cat appear as characters. A piece of stagecraft seen throughout the production resembles a woman's naked torso, and her uterus is visible. Some critics excoriated this version.
Mikhail Chemiakin and Kirill Simonov — 2001
Mikhail Chemiakin's production for the Mariinsky Ballet, staged in 2001, but not yet shown on television, was taped in 2007 and released on DVD in 2008 (both on Blu-ray and regular format; however, the regular format version rapidly went out-of-print) (88 mins.). The production stresses the grotesque even more than the Maurice Sendak version. Like the Béjart version, though not in such an extreme way, it is not really intended for children at all. The DVD stars Russian ballerina Irina Golub as Clara (called Masha in this version), but onstage, she and Natalya Sologub alternated in the rôle.
Although the production was conceived and largely created by Chemiakin at the request of conductor Valery Gergiev, it was choreographed by Kirill Simonov. The choreography in this production does not resemble that in any earlier version of the ballet. The ballet's original storyline is still followed, but only in a very basic way; it is full of touches which do not appear in any other Nutcracker, and there is a morbid twist at the end. Gergiev himself has stated that he feels that The Nutcracker (which, like many, he incorrectly terms The Nutcracker Suite), is one of the most tragic scores that Tchaikovsky ever composed.
The Chemiakin Nutcracker has proved highly controversial. Critic George Jackson disliked this version intensely, calling it "The Gargoyle Nutcracker" and gave it a withering review, inexplicably terming Masha a "brat" and a "mini-slut", and seemingly overlooking the fact that in this version, Masha is kind to her obnoxious brother Fritz even after he has tried to mistreat the Nutcracker, and, out of pity, she even tends to the wounded mice after their battle with the toys. Other reviewers, and Chemiakin himself, have stressed that Masha is definitely not intended to come across as a brat, although her brother Fritz is. (Even Drosselmeyer hates Fritz in this version.)
The website HDVD Arts gave the production an even more sardonic review, oozing with flippant sarcasm, calling the decor ugly, and concentrating on aspects of the staging that perhaps depended more on the outlook of the reviewer than on what happens in the actual production. Masha does not "flash her crotch directly" at the Nutcracker, as the reviewer states, but some of her dance moves during the Journey Through the Snow piece, which she performs as a solo rather than with the Nutcracker Prince, may be considered unusual. The same critic commented that Masha "dances lasciviously in the Pas de Deux". It could be argued convincingly that she does not, but the romance between the Prince and Masha is even more sharply drawn in this version of the ballet than in most others; Masha is more obviously shown to be in love with the Prince, and a look of what could be called sexual yearning is seen in her eyes at one point during the second act Pas de Deux Adagio. The couple also rushes into each other's arms at one point during the Adagio and kisses tenderly as the music plays, something rarely seen in a Nutcracker production before this one. According to Chemiakin in his book Staging the Nutcracker, it is the kiss which transforms the Nutcracker into the Prince, and the transformation is supposed to take place after the Waltz of the Flowers, but on the DVD, this seems not to be the case, since the dancer playing the Prince (Leonid Sarafanov) has his nutcracker mask removed early in the waltz, during its harp cadenza. The kiss seems simply a declaration of Masha and the Prince's love for each other.
Chemiakin has also stated that he envisions Masha as a lonely girl, snubbed even by her parents, who feels "suddenly flaming love" for the Nutcracker, when, as a toy, he offers her friendship.
In the Chemiakin version, all the events in the story really do take place; it is no dream. There is no Christmas Tree that grows, and the first few moments take place in the busy kitchen of the Stahlbaum home, rather than a brightly decorated living room of the nineteenth century. Masha's father Herr Stahlbaum, rather than being a dignified, kindly figure, is a clown-like lecher who is forever chasing one of the kitchen maids. Most of the adults at the Christmas Party (including Masha's own parents) are rather drunk by the end of the festivities (the guests leave the party via the Stahlbaum's wine cellar, which is not shown in any other production). The rodents (in this case rats, rather than mice), are seen to be skulking around already in the ballet's opening scene. Unlike the traditional version, the Nutcracker, who is played as life-sized throughout, instead of being a toy that one can hold in their hands, is not broken by Fritz, only twisted into an awkward position; he behaves as if he were alive almost from the very beginning of the ballet, and, as in E.T.A. Hoffmann's original tale, does not turn into a Prince immediately after he defeats the Rat King.
Masha is also plagued by disturbing visions in the production. During the Grossvater Tanz at the Christmas party, she suddenly hallucinates that the adults have become rodent-like creatures, and is terrified by the sight. The rats are not even clearly seen to be rats in the production, just strange-looking malevolent creatures.
The Dance of the Reed Flutes is performed by three bumblebees in this production.
The Sugar Plum Fairy does appear in this version, but her rôle is little more than a walk-on. Masha performs all of the Fairy's dances and the Nutcracker Prince all of Kolkyush's, much as Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov did in their 1977 version.
Although Masha seems to behave as a typical child in the early scenes, once the battle with the rats is over, she assumes a more adult-like demeanor and seems to become a girl in her late teens or early twenties.
The Nutcracker is given four sisters in this production, and they welcome Masha warmly when she and the Nutcracker arrive in the Palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Unlike the Nutcracker, they do not seem to be under any form of enchantment. It is one of the sisters who performs the task of removing the Nutcracker's "face" (actually the mask that the dancer portraying the rôle wears), thus revealing that he is really a Prince. The sisters were included in Petipa's original outline for the ballet's libretto, but are now usually not included in productions of it.
Drosselmeyer appears to somehow be in league with the rats in this production; they are always hovering around him, and during the battle between the rats and the toys, Drosselmeyer even consults with a new character, the Rat Cardinal; they are both searching through what appears to be a giant cookbook. On the other hand, Drosselmeyer saves the lives of Masha and the Nutcracker during the Waltz of the Snowflakes, which is given a very sinister quality here - the chorus is made up of the ghosts of children who have perished in the snow, and Masha and the Nutcracker nearly suffer the same fate when the dancing snowflakes become a snowstorm.
The second act takes place not in the Kingdom of Sweets, but in another kitchen, the Kitchen of Sweets. The rats are there, preparing what appears to be a grand feast, a foreshadowing of the finale's surprise revelation. The final moments are quite shocking in this version, even ghoulish. The Prince has asked Masha to marry him, she has accepted, and they have happily joined in the Final Waltz. The scene changes as the Apotheosis begins: we see Drosselmeyer walking with a stagger and clutching at his chest, as if suffering a heart attack. The stage is dark, except for a light streaming from a grille, behind which a wave of activity seems to be going on. Drosselmeyer painfully tries to see through it, but cannot. At a wave of Drosselmeyer's hand, the curtain rises, revealing what is behind the grille. It is a giant wedding cake, so tall it almost reaches the ceiling. Surrounding it, in statue-like poses, are all the characters who appeared in Act II. Atop the cake stand a miniaturized bride and groom - Masha and her Prince. They have been turned into sweets, the price they have paid for marrying. (Only Masha and the Prince are represented by actual statues in this scene; the other characters are played by the flesh-and-blood dancers in statue-like poses. No reason is given for this.) The implication seems to be that the rats have prepared the cake and the sweets for their own benefit, and as they nibble on the bottom of the cake, drawing nearer and nearer to the top the audience senses that they will eventually eat all, including the newlyweds. Although Drosselmeyer has presumably been in league with the rats, and hardly shows any admirable qualities in this version, he seems to be conscience-stricken and horrified at Masha's ultimate fate.
Nina Alovert commented disparagingly of the production, saying that it was "full of uncaring human beings and rats who eat people", and that "The one good person [in the ballet] is turned into a sugar-coated doll".
Helgi Tomasson — 2004
In December 2004, the San Francisco Ballet premiered a new production choreographed by Helgi Tomasson, which was issued on DVD (132 mins, half an hour of which is supplemental material) and first telecast on PBS during the 2008 Christmas season. The basic storyline of the ballet is followed, but the new production takes several liberties with the original scenario: the ballet is now set in 1915 San Francisco rather than Germany, and the frightening aspects of Drosselmeyer's character are erased, turning him into a purely benevolent toy maker and magician.
In this production, the Nutcracker first "comes to life" at the Christmas party, before Clara's dream even begins. Rather than the Soldier or the Moor (or a bear, as in some versions) being the third of Drosselmeyer's life-size dancing dolls, it is the Nutcracker who performs the dance. After his dance ends, he is put back into the box, and Drosselmeyer then produces the normal-size, inanimate Nutcracker, which he gives to Clara. (The Nutcracker in this scene is traditionally danced by a separate dancer than the one who performs the Nutcracker Prince.) In this version, during the battle with the mice, rather than throwing her slipper at him, Clara arranges with the help of the toy soldiers to get the Mouse King's tail caught in a huge mousetrap, thus enabling the Nutcracker to fatally stab him.
The second act takes place not in the Land of Sweets, but in a Crystal Palace reminiscent of one Clara would have seen at the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair, and the dances are a parade of nations akin to exhibitions at the Fair. Drosselmeyer is very much present in this version, watching the divertissements in the Palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy along with Clara. The Sugar Plum Fairy's rôle is considerably shortened in this version; her only extended dance sequence is in the Waltz of the Flowers. She also takes part in the Final Waltz.
One of the most notable changes is that, as the festivities draw to a close, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Uncle Drosselmeyer grant Clara (Elizabeth Powell) her greatest Christmas wish and transform her into a beautiful woman (Maria Kochetkova) to dance in the arms of her Prince (Davit Karapetyan). Thus in this production, the final Grand Pas de Deux is danced not by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her escort but by the Nutcracker Prince and Clara, who has been magically transformed into an adult ballerina specifically for this purpose. There is less of a hint of an actual romantic attraction between Clara and the Prince in this version; they seem to be just good friends. The Prince is played by an adult dancer, while Clara appears to be a young girl of about thirteen, except in the Grand Pas de Deux.
The fantasy sequences are all a dream in this version; at the end, on Christmas morn, the young Clara awakens with the nutcracker in her arms, happy and contented to have had the dream.
The 1986 film of the Maurice Sendak version and the 1993 film of the Balanchine version both feature amplified sound effects that normally would not be heard in a production of the ballet. These consist mostly of sword clashes, mouse squeaks and eerie sounds during the battle between the toys and the mice.
Ivan Vsevolozhsky's original costume sketch for The Nutcracker (1892)
The music in Tchaikovsky's ballet is some of the composer's most popular. The music belongs to the Romantic Period and contains some of his most memorable melodies, several of which are frequently used in television and film. (They are often heard in TV commercials shown during the Christmas season.) The Trepak, or Russian dance, is one of the most recognizable pieces in the ballet, along with the famous Waltz of the Flowers and March, as well as the ubiquitous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The ballet contains surprisingly advanced harmonies and a wealth of melodic invention that is (to many) unsurpassed in ballet music. Nevertheless, the composer's reverence for Rococo and late 18th century music can be detected in passages such as the Overture, the "Entrée des parents", and "Tempo di Grossvater" in Act I.
One novelty in Tchaikovsky's original score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He wanted it genuinely for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy to characterize her because of its "heavenly sweet sound". It appears not only in her "Dance", but also in other passages in Act II. Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene. Tchaikovsky was proud of the celesta's effect, and wanted its music performed quickly for the public, before he could be "scooped." Everyone was enchanted.
Suites derived from this ballet became very popular on the concert stage. The composer himself extracted a suite of eight pieces from the ballet, but that authoritative move has not prevented later hands from arranging other selections and sequences of numbers. Eventually one of these ended up in Disney's Fantasia. In any case, The Nutcracker Suite should not be mistaken for the complete ballet.
Although the original ballet is only about 85 minutes long if performed without applause or an intermission, and therefore much shorter than either Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, some modern staged performances have omitted or re-ordered some of the music, or inserted selections from elsewhere, thus adding to the confusion over the suites. In fact, most of the very famous versions of the ballet have had the order of the dances slightly re-arranged, if they have not actually altered the music:
For instance, the 1954 George Balanchine New York City Ballet version adds to Tchaikovsky's score an entr'acte that the composer wrote for Act II of The Sleeping Beauty, but which is now seldom played in productions of that ballet. It is used as a transition between the departure of the guests and the battle with the mice. During this transition, the mother of Marie (as she is called in this version) appears in the living room and throws a blanket over the girl, who has crept downstairs and fallen asleep on the sofa; then Drosselmeyer appears, repairs the Nutcracker, and binds the jaw with a handkerchief. In addition, the Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy is moved from near the end of Act II to near the beginning of the second act, just after the Sugar Plum Fairy makes her first appearance. To help the musical transition, the tarantella that comes before the dance is also cut. In the 1993 film version of the Balanchine version, just as in the telecast of Baryshnikov's staging, the Miniature Overture is cut in half, and the opening credits are seen as the overture is heard. The film's final credits feature a reprise of the Waltz of the Flowers.
Rudolf Nureyev's 1963 version for the Royal Ballet changes the order of some of the musical numbers, repeating the music of the "mice attack" and the departure of the guests at the end, and omitting the Final Waltz and Apotheosis which normally conclude the ballet.
A made-for-TV filmed color German-American production of The Nutcracker was first telecast in the United States as a Christmas season special by CBS in December 1965. Choreographed by Kurt Jacob, it featured a largely German, but still international cast made up from several companies, including Edward Villella, Patricia McBride and Melissa Hayden from the New York City Ballet. First televised in Germany in 1964, this production aired on CBS annually between 1965 and 1968, and then was withdrawn from American network television. Videotaped "wraparound" host segments in English, made in the style of those that CBS manufactured for their 1960's telecasts of MGM's The Wizard of Oz, featured Eddie Albert (at that time starring in the CBS long-running hit Green Acres), who also narrated the story offscreen. These segments were added to the program for its showings in the U.S. New opening credits were also added in English. Famed German dancer Harald Kreutzberg appeared (in what was probably his last rôle) in the dual rôles of Drosselmeyer and the Snow King (though in one listing, Drosselmeyer has been re-christened Uncle Alex Hoffman — presumably a reference to E.T.A. Hoffmann, who wrote the original tale). This production cut the ballet down to a one-act version lasting slightly less than an hour, and drastically re-ordered all the dances, even to the point of altering the storyline (instead of defeating the Mouse King, who does not even appear in this production, Clara and the Nutcracker must now journey to the Castle of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where the Fairy will wave her wand and turn the Nutcracker back into a Prince). Villella does not wear a Nutcracker mask at all in this production; he is seen throughout as a normal-looking man, and the only way that one can tell that he has been transformed from a nutcracker into a prince is by his change in costume. This production inserted some music from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, as two bluebirds were brought in as characters to dance the Bluebird Pas de Deux from that work. Curiously enough, the famous March is not heard during the actual ballet, but only during the new opening credits and hosting sequence devised by CBS. The March comes to a sudden halt as host Eddie Albert cracks a nut with a nutcracker that he has beside him on a table.
In Baryshnikov's American Ballet Theatre version, nearly all of the original Tchaikovsky score is used, with slight edits, but the order of the divertissement numbers in Act II (the section of the ballet with the least plot) is changed, and the Arabian Dance had to be completely omitted in the television version in order to bring the program in at 90 minutes (counting the three commercial breaks which were included in the production's CBS telecasts). The Miniature Overture, during which the opening credits are seen in the TV version, is cut in half, as is the Final Waltz, which is danced near the end and again heard during the closing credits. Drosselmeyer appears right after the opening credits, in a prologue which shows him conjuring up the puppets for the puppet show, the dancing toys that he will bring to the Christmas Party, and the Nutcracker that he will give to Clara. The music normally used for his entrance during the party is here used as scoring for the puppet show. Baryshnikov also turned the Adagio from the Pas de Deux into a dance for Clara and the Nutcracker/Prince rather than one for the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Kolkyush, moving it to the end of the Pas de deux rather than having it danced at the beginning as is traditionally done in ballet, and creating an emotional climax by having it performed just before the concluding Final Waltz and Apotheosis.
In The Nutcracker: a Fantasy on Ice, a television adaptation for ice skating from 1983 starring Dorothy Hamill and Robin Cousins, narrated by Lorne Greene, and telecast on HBO, Tchaikovsky's score underwent not only reordering, but also insertion of music from his other ballets and also of music from Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov's Caucasian Sketches. Drosselmeyer did not appear at all in this version. Some years later, Ms. Hamill and then-husband Kenneth Forsythe produced a more complete ice ballet version for the stage, which was broadcast (in somewhat abridged form) in 1990 on NBC's Sportsworld, co-narrated by Hamill herself and Merlin Olsen. This version featured Nathan Birch as the Prince, J. Scott Driscoll as the Nutcracker, and Tim Murphy as Drosselmeyer.
In the Royal Ballet's 1985 version, Tchaikovsky's score is used and the original order of the dances is not changed at all, but the Mother Ginger dance is omitted. Wright also created a prologue featuring Drosselmeyer, performed during the Miniature Overture. In it, Drosselmeyer is seen grieving in his workshop over the spell that has turned his beloved nephew into a Nutcracker, and preparing to take his presents to the Christmas Party. This version was re-staged with some of the same dancers taking different rôles, as well as with new dancers, in 2001. In the 2001 version, Alina Cojocaru danced the rôle of Clara, a rôle danced in 1985 by Julie Rose. Anthony Dowell, who had danced the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier in 1985, danced the rôle of Drosselmeyer in the 2001 version, telecast by PBS. A new film version of this production's latest revival was shown in hi-def movie theatres in late 2009. In the film, Iohna Loots was Clara, Ricardo Cervera was the Nutcracker and Drosselmeyer's nephew, and Gary Avis was Drosselmeyer.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker adds a duet from Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades that is heard during the Christmas party sequence. In addition, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is placed very early in the second act, rather than its traditional place toward the end, and is danced by the dream Clara. The tarantella, danced by the Nutcracker/Prince, is also placed very early in the second act, rather than near the end, and the ending of the Waltz of the Snowflakes is slightly changed in the 1986 film adaptation of this version. The