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"The Nutcracker Suite" - another Christmas tradition

Updated on January 14, 2014
This brings back memories - I played "The Sugar Plum Fairy" and "The Waltz of the Flowers" from a piano book very much like this.
This brings back memories - I played "The Sugar Plum Fairy" and "The Waltz of the Flowers" from a piano book very much like this. | Source

A Christmas tradition

One of the most elegant and exquisite Christmas tradition I can think of is seeing a performance of the ballet, The Nutcracker Suite. What a wonderful joy it is to spend an afternoon or evening viewing this quintessential ballet and listening to the beautiful music.

My Christmas is not complete without seeing The Nutcracker Suite and listening to the lovely classical music of Russian Peter Tchaikovsy who wrote the score. As a child, I took ballet dance lessons and every little girl wanted to dance the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy and no one more than me.

I played the piano in my youth, and of course studied Tchaikovsy's music. No one more than me loved playing the music of "The Sugar Plum Fairy" and "The Waltz of the Flowers,"my two favorite dances and music from the ballet.

For me, during Christmas time, the epitome of Christmas, was seeing a performance of The Nutcracker Suite. I dreamed and fantasized of being Clara, the beautiful girl who gets her prince when the Nutcracker present she receives comes alive. Her Nutcracker prince takes Clara on a magical, mystical tour of his realm, the Land of the Sweets.

It is every girl's dream to see The Nutcracker Suite, so if you have a daughter or granddaughter, see The Nutcracker this Christmas holiday season! Oh, and boys may like this ballet too, as Clara has a younger brother named Fritz.

From "The Nutcracker."
From "The Nutcracker." | Source
Japan International Youth Ballet.
Japan International Youth Ballet. | Source

A brief history of ballet

Ballet is a formalized form of dance that takes hours upon hours of practice to perfect and hours upon hours of exercise to remain flexible. Although, the word 'ballet' is French and today uses French words and vocabulary to describe the steps and positions, ballet actually has its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The word ballet, or course, comes from French and it was borrowed into the English language in the 17th century. The word ballet originally comes from Italian, balleto, which is the diminutive of the Italian word ballo, dance, which comes from the Italian verb ballare which means 'to dance.' So that is how we ended up using the French word 'ballet.'

From Renaissance Italy, ballet quickly spread to the French court of Catherine de'Medici, originallly, from Florence, Italy, and from here the dance developed even further.

By the late 17th century, Louis XIV had founded the famed Academie Royal de Musique (the Paris Opera), which merged with the first professional theatrical ballet company, The Paris Opera Ballet. Because of this, we have the reason for the predominance of French in the vocabulary of ballet.

This French theatrical ballet troupe eventually became separate and an independent form of art in France, but it always maintained a close association with opera.

From France, ballet spread from the heart of Europe to other world-wide places and nations.

  • 1740's The Royal Danish Ballet and Imperial Ballet of the Russian Empire was founded.
  • 1907 the Russian ballet left Russia for Paris, France and the Ballet Russes of Serge Diaghilev became influencial and ballet continued to spread further as more modern companies were formed.
  • 1931 London's, The Royal Ballet was formed.
  • 1933 the San Francisco Ballet began.
  • 1937 the American Ballet Theatre was formed.
  • 1940 The Australian Ballet was formed.
  • 1948 the famed New York City Ballet began.
  • 1951 the National Ballet of Canada was formed.
  • 2002 the Delhi Ballet began.

These ballet companies have all performed some type of The Nutcracker Suite during Christmas seasons.

20th century styles of ballet continued to develop and strongly influenced broader concert dance. For example, Martha Graham's New York dance troupe incorporated much ballet in her modern dance performances.

George Balanchine, one of the U.S. great ballet dancers and choreographers, developed what is known today as neoclassical ballet.

From here the subsequent development was contemporary ballet and post-structural ballet. A good example of this is Germany's William Forsythe and his choreography of modern ballet.

Mikhail Baryshnikov, a Russian ballet dancer who defected to the U.S. back in the 1970's, has danced and choreographed for the American Ballet Theatre.

Marius Petipa who choreographed the ballet dance for "The Nutcracker Suite."
Marius Petipa who choreographed the ballet dance for "The Nutcracker Suite." | Source
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who wrote the musical score for "The Nutcracker Suite," (op.71)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who wrote the musical score for "The Nutcracker Suite," (op.71) | Source
The celesta, a new instrument. Tchaikovsky used in his music for "The Sugar Plum Fairy."
The celesta, a new instrument. Tchaikovsky used in his music for "The Sugar Plum Fairy." | Source
The original performance of  "The Nutcracker Suite," in December 1892, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The original performance of "The Nutcracker Suite," in December 1892, in St. Petersburg, Russia. | Source
The original set design for "The Nutcracker Suite."
The original set design for "The Nutcracker Suite." | Source

The creators of "The Nutcracker Suite"

The Nutcracker Suite is a two-act ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with musical score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (op.71)

Petipa was already famous at the time for having choreographed the ballets of Don Quixote, Giselle, Coppelia and Sleeping Beauty among others; all beautiful ballets to see if you have not done so already.

Tchaikovsky was already famous for writing the musical scores for the ballets, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. In fact, Petipa and Tchaikovsky had just worked together on Sleeping Beauty right before collaborating on Nutcracker.

The libretto, which means musical text, was adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman's story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The story is set in Germany which is the homeland of our Christmas tradition and so it is so fitting that The Nutcracker has become a Christmas tradition, especially here in the U.S.

The plot of the Nutcracker was simplified for the two-act ballet and does not scene for scene follow Hoffman's story. But, the gist of the story comes from here. Hoffman's tale contained a long flashback story entitled, "The Tale of the Hard Nut," in which it is explained how the prince was turned into a Nutcracker. This part was left out of the ballet.

The Nutcracker premiered only in part at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in December 1892, on a double-bill with Tchaikovsky's opera, Iolanta. The opera was not a success, but the twenty minute suite Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. How could it not?

For this first performance, the entire Nutcracker was not performed as only the twenty minute performance part was. Tchaikovsky wasn't thrilled with writing the score for the Nutcracker and didn't really consider it a great composition. He was more interested in his Iolanta opera. But the public loved the Nutcracker part but never cared for the opera, much to Tchaikovsky's consternation.

Tchaikovsky had written the musical score in Rouen, France, interrupted by a 25-day trip to the U.S. to perform some of his compositions. When he was finished composing the music for the Nutcracker, he returned to St. Petersburg. The first performance of the Nutcracker outside of Russia did not occur until 1934 and took place in England.

The first complete version was not danced in the U.S. until 1944 by the San Francisco Ballet, and the New York City Ballet gave it's first annual performance of George Balanchine's Nutcracker staging in 1954.

The complete Nutcracker ballet has been enormously popular since the 1960's. It has been performed by countless ballet companies especially in the U.S. and primarily during the Christmas season because it is a Christmas story.

Tchaikovsky's musical score has become one of his most famous compositions and "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" one of the most popular music and dance from the ballet. It is the dance and music every little girl waits for when watching a performance of the ballet.

That is because of a new instrument Tchaikovsky used, a celesta, for just the Sugar Plum music and dance. A celesta is struck idiophone operated by a keyboard. It looks like a miniature piano. The sound is similar to that of a Glockenspiel but with a much softer and more subtle sound.

The celesta is a transposing instrument that sounds an octave higher than the written pitch. It has a four-octave sounding range. It was this instrument that made the new, unusual sound when the Sugar Plum Fairy danced. And, the audience loved it.

Act I, Scene 1 from "The Nutcracker Suite."  Drosselmeyer  brings Christmas presents for Clara and Fritz.
Act I, Scene 1 from "The Nutcracker Suite." Drosselmeyer brings Christmas presents for Clara and Fritz. | Source
The Nutcracker Christmas present that enchants Clara.
The Nutcracker Christmas present that enchants Clara. | Source
Clara dances with the Nutcracker.
Clara dances with the Nutcracker. | Source

The story of "The Nutcracker Suite"

Many choreographers throughout the U.S. have revised or changed the original libretto in their performances. The story can vary from production to production. But, most of the ballets follow this basic story line.

Act I - Christmas Eve in the German family Stahlbaum home

Family and friends have gathered to decorate the Christmas tree, a German tradition, in the Stahlbaum home. The adults decorate the tree and then the children are sent for the presentation of the tree to them. The children enter the room to see the Christmas tree and the children are in awe of the beautifully decorated tree.

During the Christmas Eve festivities presents are given to the children. Then, Drosselmeyer, a magician, toy maker and young Clara Stahlbaum's godfather, appears. He has brought toys for the children. Four life-like dolls dance and entertain the children and adults. Then, Drosselmeyer puts them away for safe keeping.

But, Drosselmeyer has one more toy for Clara and Fritz. It is a wooden Nutcracker carved in the shape of a little man to break the shells of the walnuts he has also brought. Clara immediately is enchanted with the Nutcracker; however, Fritz, being the little annoying brother, purposely breaks it and Clara is heartbroken.

Later that night, after everyone has gone to bed, Clara returns to the room with the Christmas tree to check on her beloved Nutcracker.

The clock strikes midnight (always that magical hour) and the Nutcracker grows to life-size as Clara finds herself in the middle of a battle between the gingerbread soldiers, led by the Nutcracker, and the army of mice that suddenly appear and start eating the gingerbread soldiers.

The tin soldiers and dolls all join the Nutcracker's army to help. As the Mouse King advances his army, Clara throws her slipper at him, distracting him and the Nutcracker is able to stab the Mouse King.

The mice retreat and the Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince. He leads Clara through the moonlit night to a pine forest where the snowflakes dance around them.

"The Dance of the Snowflakes."
"The Dance of the Snowflakes." | Source
The Sugar Plum Fairy dances with her Cavalier.
The Sugar Plum Fairy dances with her Cavalier. | Source

Act II - In a magical land

Clara and the Prince travel in a nutshell boat pulled by dolphins to the beautiful Land Of the Sweets. This land is ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy since the Prince has been gone. To honor Clara, who saved the Nutcracker (the Prince), a celebration of Sweets from around the world is produced and they all dance to amuse Clara:

  • Chocolate from Spain
  • Coffee from Arabia
  • Tea from China
  • Candy Canes from Russia

The Sugar Plum fairy does her own special dance for Clara, too.

After the dances of the Sweets, Danish shepherdesses perform on their flutes. Mother Ginger has her children, the polichinelles, come out from under her large skirt to dance to entertain Clara.

Next, a string of beautiful flowers perform a waltz. The Sugar Plum fairy and her Cavalier are the last to perform and their performance is a lovely dance.

A final waltz is performed by all the sweets and then Clara and the Prince are crowned rulers of The Land of Sweets.

Clara and the Prince leave in a sleigh drawn by reindeer.

"Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" by Nina Kaptsova of the Bolshoi Ballet

The beautiful sleigh and reindeer that carries Clara and her Prince back home.
The beautiful sleigh and reindeer that carries Clara and her Prince back home. | Source

Would you like to see a performance of "The Nutcracker Suite"

See results

Clara is found by her parents sleeping by the Christmas tree and suddenly Clara awakens thinking all has been a beautiful dream, but she notices her crown sitting beside her. Was it really all a dream?

Clara walks over to the Christmas tree, picks up the Nutcracker and goes back to sleep. If it truly was all a dream, Clara wants to keep dreaming.

This ballet has enchanted me ever since I was a young girl dancing ballet and playing the piano. Although I danced The Sugar Plum Fairy part in ballet classes, I never danced in a production of The Nutcracker Suite. Even writing this hub has gotten me excited to see the ballet again this Christmas season. Don't miss out on a wonderful Christmas tradition. Take your sweetie to see this ballet and for a few hours you can dream of being Clara and the Prince in The Land of the Sweets.

See below for links to websites to buy tickets from various ballet companies throughout the U.S. who are performing The Nutcracker Suite this Christmas season.

"Waltz of the Flowers" Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia


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    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thanks for reading Dianna. I love the Nutcracker too. It is one of my favorite holiday traditions. I don't see it every year buy I try to. I have seen different companies perform it and each one is wonderful and different.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      I love The Nutcracker ballet performance. I only wish I could see it every year. I've seen it performed in three different cities and each one brings a fresh interest to the story.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Hi Sunshine: I am glad you enjoyed reading this. I was a ballerina as a child, so I have always loved the Nutcracker. I never got to dance this ballet, but would have loved to. Thanks so much for you "sunny" visit and thanks for the shares.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I'm not a fan of ballets, but I did enjoy your article! :)

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      cygnebrown: So glad you read this and it brought back good memories for your. I am glad your granddaughter enjoyed it. It is a beautiful ballet. Thank you so taking the time to read this and I am glad you appreciate it.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Cygnet Brown 

      6 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      My daughter and her grandmother went to see The Nutcracker a couple of weeks ago and they absolutely loved it! Thank you so much for this hub that does such a brilliant job of backgrounding the ballet.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Jamie: What a great dad you are! She may be a bit young to understand what it is all about yet. The Nutcracker has a scary face to a three year old so I can understand that. When she is older she may enjoy it more. So glad you enjoyed reading this and I appreciate your comments. Thanks for your visit.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      6 years ago from Reno NV

      Yesterday I tried to get my three year old daughter to sit and watch "The Nutcracker" with me. She thought it was too scary. Well...there is next year. Very well researched and written hub. Happy Holidays to you and your family. Jamie

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Cyndi: Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful Nutcracker experience with us. I am so glad you took your sons to this and introduced them to ballet and classical music. What a wonderful tradition to have started in your family. This is one of the Christmas season's traditions I look forward to each year also. Thanks so much for sharing your Nutcracker experience with us. I appreciated your interesting and insightful comments!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Sharkye: I am so glad you read this hub and it brought back such lovely memories for your. How wonderful your father was part of those memories playing for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. How cool is that? Thank you so much for reading and I'm glad to bring a little magic back into your life with this hub. I so appreciate your interesting and insightful comments.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      You really packed a lot of great information in this hub. I always find it ironic that the work an artist doesn't care too much for is often the one that the public embraces, just as they did with the Nutcracker Suite.

      While my boys were growing up, it was a holiday tradition to see the Nutcracker. In fact, I introduced it to my oldest when he was only a bit older than three. I don't recommend it for anyone that young who might have an aversion to the dark. When the house lights went down, he was not a happy camper. We missed the performance. But after that, a tradition was started. Even now, he tries to catch a performance during the season wherever he might be spending Christmas. I credit the Nutcracker for his love of classical music and playing in the symphonic band throughout high school.

      Thanks for the great write up. Voted up.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      I love, love, love this hub! When I was a little girl, my dad played horn for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Every year we went to watch a performance of the Nutcracker Suite, which we loved watching, but he hated playing! It was one of my favorite Christmas memories, too. After he retired and we moved to the country where there were no performances, we watched filmed versions or listened to albums. We also all collect nutcracker figurines for Christmas. It is a magical part of Christmas that everyone should have the opportunity to sample at least once!

      Voting and sharing!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Faith: This is my favorite Christmas tradition and I try to see a performance every year. I hope to see one around here somewhere - usually Cleveland has a performance each Christmas. I must start looking into tickets. LOL So glad you enjoyed this also and do take your granddaughters - they will love it and so will you! Thanks so much for reading and for your comments.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      7 years ago from southern USA

      The Nutcracker Suite is my favorite of all time! I hope to bring my granddaughters one day, maybe when they are a bit older to enjoy it fully. However, they just love ballet dancers and the music is most enchanting.

      What a lovely hub here you have presented. I enjoyed reading about all of its history.

      So beautiful!

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Genna,Thank you so much for your comments and I am glad you enjoyed this hub. You sound like a ballet buff. I have loved ballet since I was a child. Thanks so much for your visit. Most appreciated.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      You have presented all of the elements of “The Nutcracker” beautifully, and with a meticulous eye to its history in detail. This is one of Tchaikovsky’s best scores (“Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake” are others). Petipa was another genius, whose talents combined with Tchaikovsky to create magnificent artistry. Superb hub, Suzette. :-)

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Jasdeeep- Welcome to HubPages. I look forward to reading your hubs. I know you from Google +. Thank you for following me and I am glad you enjoyed reading is hub. Ballet is something I love and enjoy and I love The Nutcracker. Thanks so much for your visit. Much appreciated.

    • Jasdeep-Singh profile image

      Laddi Singh 

      7 years ago from (Punjab) India

      Beautiful post Suzette hope tomorrow is the better day for you.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Mhatter: You like ballet-that's great! So glad you enjoyed this hub. It was fun to write. I love "The Nutcracker." Thanks so much for your visit. Much appreciated.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. I use be a regular at the SF ballet.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Eric: So glad you liked this hub. And, I think it would be lovely done on ice too. I will have to see the Ice Capades skate this one holiday season. I never thought of the Ice Capades doing this. Thanks so much for the suggestion! And, again, thanks for stopping by to read this - most appreciated.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      tobusiness: Do see this some Christmas season - it is delightful, especially if you like ballet. Well, maybe you can make it worth your hubby's while. LOL Thanks so much for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed this.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      7 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Great Hub thank you. My favorite was I think "Ice Capades" doing it on ice. great memories and now new knowledge.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      7 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      I've always wanted to see this ballet but never did. It's strange, much of what you've written I knew, yet I've never actually seen the show. I think it's time to drag the old man out this Christmas, although he'll be kicking and screaming.

      :) Beautiful hub, very informative.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Bill: So glad to hear you see this every year - you have made it a holiday tradition - how nice! I, too, see this or try to every year. So glad you enjoyed this and thanks so much for stopping by to read this!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      We go every year. It is the only ballet I have ever seen and I love going to it. Thanks for the history....very interesting Suzette.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Kim, Thank you so much for you wonderful comments. This was a labor of love - I just love ballet. I also took ballet one semester at college and loved it. I think we appreciate ballet the older we get. I'm not as limber either. In fact, about 10-15 years ago I bought a NYC Ballet exercise tape and sometimes pull that out and exercise to it. It is wonderful exercise and does some easy steps and tendu's etc. I have had a love of ballet all my life. Alas, my niece is grown now, but I will see a performace of "Nutcracker" this season also. Have a wonderful holiday season and enjoy!

    • ocfireflies profile image


      7 years ago from North Carolina


      You never disappoint. Your hubs are among the finest on HP. I also took ballet when I was a young girl, but it was in college that I really became hooked. The semester I took ballet was also the semester I made the best grades. I have a tape that I still attempt from time to time. Just not nearly as limber as I once was...Smiles. Naturally V+/Share! You are an amazing writer!

      Looking forward to the Nutcracker which I will see with my young nieces,



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