The Nutcracker

From Academic Kids

A performance of The Nutcracker
A performance of The Nutcracker

The story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was written by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Alexandre Dumas' adaptation of the story was set to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and has become the most popular ballet performed around Christmas time. It is appealing to children and adults alike and has been a standard yearly feature of theaters in many cities.



The story has been published in many book versions including colorful children's versions. The plot revolves around a young German girl named Clara Stahlbaum. (There is some ambiguity about the name. Some sources call the girl Clara Silberhaus, but she is called Marie Stahlbaum in the Hoffmann story and in certain later versions of the ballet.)

The curtain opens to see The Stahlbaum's house, where a Christmas party is being held. Clara, her little brother Fritz, and their mother and father are celebrating with friends and family, when the mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, enters. He quickly produces a large bag of gifts for all the children. All are very happy, except for Clara, being the only one who does not receive a gift. Herr Drosselmeyer then produces three life-sized dolls, who each take a turn to dance. When the dances are done, Clara approaches Herr Drosselmeyer asking for a gift. Sadly, Drosselmeyer is out of presents. Clara runs to her mother in a fit of tears.

Drosselmeyer conjures up a Nutcracker. Clara is happy, but Fritz is jealous, and breaks the Nutcracker. Drosselmeyer chases him off and mends the toy.

The party ends and the Stahlbaum family go to bed, but Clara is concerned about her Nutcracker, and comes out to the Christmas tree to see it. She falls asleep with the Nutcracker in her arms.

When the clock strikes midnight, Clara hears the sound of mice. She wakes up and tries to run away, but the mice stop her. The Nutcracker and his band of soldiers rise to defend Clara, and the Mouse King leads his mice into battle.

A conflict ensues, and when the Mouse King stabs the Nutcracker, Clara throws her shoe at him. The mouse dies. The mice retreat, taking their dead leader with them. Clara cries for her Nutcracker, who is also dead, and her tears bring him back to life.

The two then dance, and the Nutcracker turns into a prince, who leads her into the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where dancing Snow Flakes greet them. The people of the land dance for them, and Clara wakes up under the Christmas tree with the Nutcracker in her arms.

History of piece

Tchaikovsky composed the ballet ("Щелкунчик" in Russian) in 18911892, but he was unsatisfied with it and considered it to be one of his less successful pieces.

Suites derived from this ballet (although the sequence and included movements can somewhat differ they are all called The Nutcracker Suite, amongst which the short suite Tchaikovsky had produced himself) became very popular on the concert stage, eventually one of these ended up in Disney's Fantasia.

Because the original ballet is quite long, many modern dance performances make several omissions (adding to the confusion over the suites).


Act One

Missing image
The Waltz of the Snowflakes from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker

Act Two

Act Three


The suite derived and abridged from the ballet became more popular than the ballet itself, partly due to its inclusion in Walt Disney's Fantasia. The outline below is not the only one used for the Nutcracker suite, but it is one of the most common.

  • I. Overture
  • II. Dances
    • A. Marche
    • B. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
    • C Russian Dance
    • D Arabian Dance
    • E. Chinese Dance
    • F. Danse mirlitons
  • III. Waltz of the Flowers


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