The Nutcracker (1892) is a two-act "fairy ballet" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It is set on Christmas Eve at the foot of a Christmas tree in a child's imagination. The plot is an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman's 1816 short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The Ballet's first choreographer was Marius Petipa, with whom Tchaikovsky had worked three years earlier on The Sleeping Beauty ballet.
Act I: Christmas Eve at the Stalbaum's House
The Stahlbaums are preparing for their annual Christmas Eve party. The house is decorated with ornaments, wreaths, stockings, mistletoe and, in the center of it all, a majestic Christmas tree. The Stahlbaum children, Fritz, Clara, Phillip and Sofia, wait anxiously for their family and friends to arrive.
The guests begin to appear. The Stahlbaums have gifts of dolls and trumpets for all the children. The party gains steam with much dancing and celebratory laughter. Soon, a mysterious guest arrives. Dressed in dark clothing, Clara's uncle Drosselmeyer, the toymaker, arrives. This surprise arrival is warmly accepted, and all the children dance and carry on with laughter.
Drosselmeyer soon reveals to the children that he has brought them gifts of life-size dancing dolls and a harlequin. Clara is given the best gift of all, a Nutcracker. Fritz grows jealous and snatches the Nutcracker from Clara. It isn't long until the nutcracker breaks. Clara is upset, but Drosselmeyer fixes it with a handkerchief. The party grows late and the children become sleepy. Everyone thanks the Stahlbaums before they leave. After Clara's family retires to bed, she checks on her Nutcracker one last time and falls asleep on the couch with her Nutcracker doll.
At the stroke of midnight, Drosselmeyer wakes Clara up to a frightening scene. Out of nowhere, large mice, led by their Mouse King, begin to circle the room while the toys and Christmas tree come to life. With the help of Drosselmeyer, Clara's Nutcracker has also come to life, and battles the Mouse King and the mice. He is joined by toy soldiers in battle. With Clara's help, the Nutcracker and soldiers are victorious! The Mouse King surrenders and he and his mice retreat.
Thankful for Clara's help, the Nutcracker takes Clara through magical woods, where snowflakes dance like maidens to the gates of the Kingdom of Sweets, where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.
Act II: The Kingdom of Sweets
After their journey through the snow forest, Clara and her escorts have arrived at the Kingdom of Sweets. Clara cannot believe her eyes-- before her is a glistening pink castle made of sugar and sweets.
In her honor, the Sugar Plum Fairy takes them inside the Candy Castle and throws a lavish festival. They are treated like royalty and presented with every imaginable sweet.
Shortly therafter, the dancing begins. Spanish senoritas dance in celebration of chocolate. Arabian maidens move like the rising steam from a cup of hot coffee. Little dancers celebrate sweet tea from China. Russian dolls follow in an invigorating traditional folk dance. The French-pastry Mirlitons dance to a sweet flute song.
To Clara's delight, there is still more to be seen. Mother Ginger dances onto the Sugar Plum Fairy's court with her little candy clowns. Soon after Mother Ginger exits, the dancing flowers enter to the tune of the harp. Clara thinks it is perhaps the most beautiful waltz she has ever heard, and she watches in amazement. The flowers dance in beautiful mesmerizing patters as a single Dewdrop floats above them.
Silence quickly follows the end of their dance. Clara does not know what to expect next. The handsome Cavalier enters the scene and escorts the Sugar Plum Fairy to the center of the room. The captivating pair dance lighter than air. The other dancers reappear to wish Clara farewell, fading away as her beautiful dream comes to an end.