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Best "Nutcracker" Movie of all Time

Updated on May 21, 2015

Rudolf Nureyev's performance of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" is timeless!

"The Nutcracker" is one of the most beloved ballets of all time. This is partly because of its Christmas setting, so it's guaranteed an audience every year, but mostly because of the amazing music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The fact that there are several roles for children doesn't hurt either as it makes it very family friendly!

This movie captures the historic 1968 performance at Covent Garden in London with Rudolf Nureyev in the dual role of Herr Drosselmeyer/the Prince and featuring Merle Park as Clara. This version was choreographed by Nureyev, and it includes artists of the Royal Ballet and lots of children from the Royal Ballet Junior School. If you have never seen Nureyev dance, you should watch this! And if you love "The Nutcracker" you will love this movie.

Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker

from Amazon

The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King Illustration by Carl Offterdinger
The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King Illustration by Carl Offterdinger | Source

The Story of "The Nutcracker"

The story of "The Nutcracker" is adapted from a story written in 1816 by E. T. A. Hoffmann called "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," which tells the magical tale of a young girl whose Christmas gift of a nutcracker comes alive.

The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King,

Illustration by Carl Offterdinger from "The Nutcracker" by E.T.A. Hoffman at

Hoffmann's story is of a young man, nephew of an inventor called Herr Drosselmeyer, who fails to complete the task required to marry the princess. As a result, he is cursed by being turned into a "nutcracker" - with a large head, wide grinning mouth, and beard. The princess rejects him for being ugly and he is banished. Herr Drosselmeyer gives his god-daughter Marie a nutcracker for Christmas and tells her the tale. After various "dreams" in which the nutcracker comes to life and they defeat the evil Mouse King, Marie tells her toy nutcracker that she would never reject him as the princess did but would love him no matter how ugly he was. This breaks the spell and Herr Drosselmeyer arrives with his nephew, magically restored to his handsome self. The nephew marries Marie and takes her away to the magical kingdom.

This beautiful volume includes English translations not of the original "Nutcracker and Mouse King" written by E.T.A. Hoffmann, but also of "The Tale of the Nutcracker," which is Alexandre Dumas' adaptation of this intriguing tale.

The Ballet

In 1892, Tchaikovsky set a variation of Hoffmann's story by French author Alexandre Dumas to music. Then, together with renowned choreographer Marius Petipa (working with Lev Ivanov) they created the ballet "The Nutcracker."

The Imperial Ballet's original production of the Petipa/Ivanov/Tchaikovsky ballet "The Nutcracker"
The Imperial Ballet's original production of the Petipa/Ivanov/Tchaikovsky ballet "The Nutcracker" | Source

The first act is really wonderful and entertaining. It begins with a Christmas party at the house of a young girl's family. Her godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, brings a bunch of amazing toys as gifts, and they all dance. The girl, Clara, receives a toy nutcracker as a gift, and she is enchanted by it.

Clara falls asleep with her toy and a dream sequence begins in which the nutcracker comes to life, a bunch of mice (I always thought they were rats!) appear, and a big battle ensues with toy soldiers coming to life as well - it's such fun! The Mouse King is defeated and Clara goes off on a tour of a magical land with the nutcracker who has become a prince.

Ballerina Maria Tallchief and Others Performing the Nutcracker Ballet at City Center  By: Alfred Eisenstaedt
Ballerina Maria Tallchief and Others Performing the Nutcracker Ballet at City Center By: Alfred Eisenstaedt | Source

Ballerina Maria Tallchief and Others Performing the Nutcracker Ballet at City Center

by Alfred Eisenstaedt at

The second act is a series of exotic dances in this magical kingdom, some of which can be pretty amazing - Sugar Plum fairies are one of the attractions - and the music is quite glorious. The conclusion is usually that the girl wakes up in her chair, still holding the nutcracker; it was all a dream.

Snowflake Waltz in the White Forest (The Nutcracker Act I, Scene III) performed by The New York City Ballet in 1954.
Snowflake Waltz in the White Forest (The Nutcracker Act I, Scene III) performed by The New York City Ballet in 1954. | Source

The ballet has been developed in different ways by various choreographers. Of particular note is George Balanchine's version, which has been performed every year by the New York City Ballet since 1954. Also well known is the American Ballet Theatre version which premiered in 1976, choreographed by Mikhail Baryshnikov.

My Favorite Version

Choreographed and danced by Rudolf Nureyev

Recorded in 1968 at Covent Garden in London, this is a truly historic production of Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker." Rudolf Nureyev was dancing at the peak of his career, and Merle Park gives an outstanding performance as Clara. Digitally re-mastered for DVD the picture is much improved over our old VHS tape. Although the sound and video quality is still not quite the level you would find in a contemporary recording, the dancing surely is!

What's Special about this Version? - Rudolf Nureyev of course!

Rudolf Nureyev rehearsing By Anthony Crickmay
Rudolf Nureyev rehearsing By Anthony Crickmay | Source

Rudolf Nureyev Rehearsing

by Anthony Crickmay from

Rudolof Nureyev was an incredible dancer, one of the best ever. It was not just his technique but his innovative and charismatic style, his utter dedication to performing a wide repertoire of pieces, everywhere, on stages throughout the world that led the world to embrace ballet like never before.

Born to a poor family in the Soviet Union, he discovered his passion for dance and ballet as a child. Despite his father's disapproval, he gained entrance to the prestigious Kirov Ballet School in Leningrad. After graduation he joined the Kirov Ballet, dancing with them for several years. He then famously defected from the Soviet Union when they toured Paris.

Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Birthday Offering by the Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House  By  Anthony Crickmay
Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Birthday Offering by the Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House By Anthony Crickmay | Source

Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Birthday Offering by the Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

by Anthony Crickmay from

A highlight of his career in the West was when he joined the Royal Ballet in London, dancing with Margot Fonteyn for several years despite their age difference. It was fortunate for the world of ballet that they met and formed this incredible partnership. They were also lifelong friends.

Nureyev was such an innovator and strong personality he had a reputation of being "difficult" since he changed and added to classic choreographies. Although he continued to dance and perform until ill health prevented him, it was almost inevitable that he began choreographing in his own right. Here he changed ballet forever, giving the male dancer a role and identity, rather than just as a partner whose function was to carry the principal ballerina during the adagios. Nureyev's male characters have solos, amazing solos, and often dance the same choreography as the principal ballerina.

"The Nutcracker" is one of six Tchaikovsky ballets he mounted in his career, and it is considered to be the best new interpretation of the story.

"Grand Pas de Deux" - Danced by Rudolf Nureyev and Merle Park

The "Grand Pas de Deux" is always beautiful in "The Nutcracker." This features not only Nureyev's great dancing but his innovative choreography, so it's pretty outstanding. And his final lift of Merle Park, where he holds his leg parallel to hers, is to die for!

Nureyev's Interpretation

The story of "The Nutcracker" ballet is well-known to be confusing, and that's without all the variations! For starters, the girl has different names: Sometimes she is called Marie, like in the book, and sometimes Clara.

Clare & her Prince
Clare & her Prince | Source

Clara & her Prince

by latidaballet at

Unlike the "Wizard of Oz" where Dorothy has learned a clear message - "there's no place like home" - as a result of her travels, the girl in "The Nutcracker" does not appear to have learned anything so straightforward. Mostly she just watches all the exotic dances in the second act, while the Prince actually participates dancing the final Pas de Deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy. In some, she doesn't wake up but remains in this fairytale kingdom, forever a child.

In his interpretation, Nureyev has Clara grow up and dance with the Prince in the magical kingdom. It is a coming of age tale, where she sheds her childish dress and emerges, like a glorious butterfly, to dance with her Prince. And when the Prince is Nureyev she can't go wrong!

Nureyev's version does seem to give it a clearer meaning. But there is still a confusion: In this version, the Prince is not played by the same dancer as the nutcracker when he comes to life - he just becomes the soldier captain who fights the mice. Rudolf Nureyev plays the Prince and he's just been playing Herr Drosselmeyer! This is definitely a bit odd. But for me it works, because it gives Nureyev more to do in the first act. He makes a great Herr Drosselmeyer! And since Merle Park also dances that amazing "Grand Pas de Deux" with Nureyev, everyone seems to have several parts, which doesn't make the story any clearer.

And in case you're expecting the Sugar Plum Fairy to dance with her "candy canes," that doesn't happen in this version! Confused us for a while because we kept wondering what happened to those candy canes, but the ballet is just fine without them.

"The Nutcracker" on Video

Someone kindly put the whole of this video on Youtube! The music quality is pretty awful, or maybe it's just the speakers on my computer are bad! And sometimes it's a bit jerky, so the dancing looks worse (or better!) than it really is. But you get the idea.

It starts with the audience arriving at Covent Garden (remember this was 1968 in London if you think they look odd)! The ballet begins with scenes outside Clara's home with kids playing in the street and families arriving. Then Herr Drosselmeyer arrives with special gifts. He's really cool with his eye patch don't you think! And the dolls dancing are tremendous.

Then we have Herr Drosselmeyer comforting Clara after repairing the broken Nutcracker doll. It then goes into the classic "Grandparents" dance - really funny! And finally, Clara falls asleep and the mice come (so cute!), and, wait for it, the Christmas tree rises up! Can't make Clara small you see, so the tree gets bigger. Love it!

King Mouse appears too, he's not cute but all the mice bowing down to him are! And, finally the Nutcracker comes to life. And then there's the big battle with the mice - another of my favorite parts!

The rest of the movie has some amazing scenes. But you know, it's a lot better with your own copy!

We had "The Nutcracker" on tape for years before it was digitized for DVD. And it's still available!

"The Nutcracker" on VHS Tape

After You've Watched "The Nutcracker"

You just have to buy one!


Everyone who goes to see a performance of "The Nutcracker" wants to buy their own wooden nutcracker to take home. We have two in our collection ... so far!

Nutcrackers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. One of ours is a tall skinny "prince" version, while the other is the short, chubby "king" style. Funny isn't it, how princes are tall and handsome while kings are short and stout!

Nutcrackers for Sale - Here is a small selection of nutcrackers in different shapes, sizes, and prices.

This set of 6 nutcracker ornaments is just perfect if you love "nutcrackers" and want to decorate your Christmas tree at the same time!

Nutcracker ornaments!

© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe

Do you love "The Nutcracker"? Which version is your favorite?

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    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 3 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Thank you! The Nutcracker is such a favorite - I love everything about it too!

    • RaintreeAnnie profile image

      RaintreeAnnie 3 years ago from UK

      I Love the Nutcracker, just beautiful- the ballet, the music everything! Lovely page, I really enjoyed reading it.

    • Sara Krentz profile image

      Sara Krentz 5 years ago from USA

      I've loved The Nutcracker since I was a child.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 5 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Stopping back by the wonderful lens to give you a blessing!

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 5 years ago

      Got to see this performed live with Nureyev and it was as amazing as you describe. Now I need the dvd so I can relive those great moments.

    • profile image

      Joan4 5 years ago

      This page is a total delight! We love the Nutcracker and you have created a lovely page!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Been years since I've seen "The Nutcracker" performed at Christmastime. Might be time to buy the DVD. Very charming the way you explained the various parts of the story. And Rudolf Nureyev was amazing.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

      Ooooooh, I love the Nutcrackers for sale! I don't remember seeing them the last time I was here. Love this lens!

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 5 years ago

      The Nutcracker is a must during the holidays! Bravo!

    • LTPParents profile image

      Tracy Gibb 6 years ago

      "The Nutcracker" is such a special tradition in my family. I take my son to see the ballet every year at Christmas time and he buys me a nutcracker as a special gift.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      The Nutcracker is my all-time favorite for Christmas -- I've seen it performed in Atlanta and that was the very best performance yet.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Well I was just here and spot checked. Once again, my rating was lost somewhere in squid space though my favorite was there. Repair made!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Well I was just here and spot checked. Once again, my rating was lost somewhere in squid space though my favorite was there. Repair made!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Hi! I love all things about "The Nutcracker"!! Lensrolling back to my main Nutcracker page. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Love The Nutcracker! ~ I have been reading some of the poetry lately.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      It might not be Christmas which is when I would watch The Nutcracker, but this wonderful lens deserves an ~*~* Angel Blessing *~*~ at any time of year :)

    • profile image

      grannysage 7 years ago

      I love the Nutcracker too, although I am more of a Baryshinikov fan. Nureyev was also a truly great dancer. I used to give my son a new nutcracker every year at Christmas. 5* for a beautiful lens

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 8 years ago

      Nice! The Nutcracker is an all time favorite for me and my family. Every year, we seat down and watch the film. Next year, I will accompany my kid to a Nutcracker ballet performance so she'll enjoy the story more. Thanks for sharing.

      Hope you could visit my lenses as well.

    • SueM11 profile image

      Sue Mah 8 years ago from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

      Great lens. Loved your photos on the ballet. Not done any lensroll before but will sure try it.

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 8 years ago

      I have to agree that the Nureyev ballet is the very best. I spend 3 months of the year very involved with The Nutcracker as my children are all dancers. Squid Angel Blessings to you

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Oh, I do love the Nutcracker music and enjoyed this lens very much. Lensrolling to my Christian Ulbricht Nutcrackers lens.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 8 years ago from UK

      Wonderful - and perfect for the festive season!

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 8 years ago

      This is a very interesting lens with lots of information. I really enjoyed reading it and learned a lot!


    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 8 years ago

      This is a beautiful lens. I have never watched this version but we will this year. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      GrowWear 8 years ago

      Jennifer, lovely lens about the Nutcracker! Well done, and Angel Blessed.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 8 years ago from USA

      You've found my soft spot! Love the Nutcracker!

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 8 years ago

      Lovely lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Another beautifully crafted lens! The Nutcracker is truly a favorite of so many. Blessed by another Angel today.

    • pkmcruk profile image

      pkmcr 8 years ago from Cheshire UK

      Really great lens and that Giant 100 Badge is soon going to be on your lenses with quality like this! Blessed by a Squid Angel :-)

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 8 years ago from United States

      As always, a beautiful lens! It has been years since I have been to a "Nutcracker" presentation. Perhaps the DVD would suffice.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 8 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Lovely lens! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • profile image

      Andy-Po 8 years ago

      Excellent lens. I haven't seen the Nutcracker live yet, although I saw Swan Lake at the Bolshoi in Moscow recently. I hope to see the Nutcracker next time I'm in Moscow, although I could watch the film instead.