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Theatre / The Nutcracker

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The familiar ballet based on Alexandre Dumas's adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The plot is much simpler than Hoffmann's story: A young girl, Clara ("Marie" in the original and "Maria/Masha" in current Russian adaptations) receives a toy nutcracker for Christmas. That night, after the festivities are over, she creeps into the living room to see him one more time — and witnesses a battalion of mice invading the house, led by the Mouse King. The Nutcracker, suddenly animate and sentient, rallies his forces to defeat them (in most versions Clara's thrown shoe turns the tide). The Nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince and invites Clara to visit his palace in the Land of Sweets. There, the residents of that magical world entertain them with several musical numbers. Then Clara wakes up and realizes it was All Just a Dream.


The score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is extremely well-known, and both the ballet and the "Nutcracker Suite" are perennial favorites for Christmastime performances. This entry at the Other Wiki lists some of the more popular takes on the ballet.

There have been quite a few feature-length adaptations as well, many reincorporating elements of the original Hoffman story, and two straight film adaptations of the ballet itself.

Perhaps most notably, the music from the Nutcracker Suite was prominently featured in Disney's Fantasia, though without any of the ballet characters.

The ballet provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Marie's name is changed to Clara. Averted in the 1993 movie staring the New York City Ballet, and by all Russian productions, which call her "Masha", a Russian diminutive of "Maria".
  • Adapted Out: Louise is often absent in many productions. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier are sometimes absent too leaving Clara and the nutcracker prince to perform their dances.
  • All Just a Dream: The ballet usually ends like this, with Marie/Clara waking up the next day. Compared with the book, it's really a Downer Ending.
    • However, in the Balanchine version, she flies off in a sleigh with the prince, giving the impression the dream was real after all, just like in the book.
    • Many versions also include an Or Was It a Dream? moment at the very end where Clara/Marie meets up with the prince in the "real" world as a Shout-Out to the Hoffmann novel.
      • In the Dutch version, she wakes up on the couch in her living room, but finds the crown she was given in the Land Of Sweets under her pillow.
    • The Royal Ballet's version (which is cast with older dancers as Clara/Marie and the Prince) ends with her running home and encountering a young man (the Prince) who is looking for his uncle. He races to Drosselmeyer's shop and a joyous reunion now the spell has been broken. It turns out that Drosselmeyer had orchestrated the events in an attempt to break his nephew’s spell.
    • One version had Clara and the prince go to The Land of Dolls, the dance numbers were performed, then a curtain call, and the play ended there.
    • The Harlem Nutcracker has Clara waking up on her couch, indicating this trope. But when she sees the ghost of her husband beckoning to her, she realizes it was actually her Dying Dream.
    • The Japanese animated feature turns the action into a Dream Within a Dream...within a dream! AND it turns out to be Or Was It a Dream? as well.
  • And You Were There: Many productions will have dancers who played guests at the Christmas party in the first act appear as assorted dancers in the second act. For example, the Grandmother at the party may later appear as Mother Ginger. Same goes for productions that have Clara meeting/interacting with the Nutcracker's "real life" counterpart and any who have Drosselmeyer taking part in Clara's adventure.
  • Age Lift: Clara/Marie and the nutcraker are supposed to be children in the story. However there are productions that have them being portrayed by adult dancers such as the Royal Ballet version. A Plot-Relevant Age-Up may be a justification to this trope.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling:
    • Although the book states that Fritz is older than Marie, the ballet usually makes him the younger sibling.
    • Averted in at least one production. The Dayton (Ohio) Ballet retells the story with Historical Domain Characters, with Clara represented by local philanthropist Virginia Kettering as a child. Mrs. Kettering had no brother, so the Fritz character is just a neighbor boy.
  • Ascended Extra: In the Royal Swedish and National Ballet of Canada versions, the Friz character joins in with his sister's Christmas adventure. Some productions have Drosselmeyer playing an active role in Clara's dream.
  • Character Exaggeration: In the original story, Fritz is a precocious, boisterous (if sometimes a bit rude) child who accidentally broke the Nutcracker's jaw on a nut that was too large. Some ballet adaptations make him into an outright brat who breaks the Nutcracker when he gets into a fight over it with Clara/Marie. This is taken to the extreme in the Pacific Northwest Ballet's version, where Fritz rips the Nutcracker out of Clara's hands and breaks him for the fun of it.
  • Christmas Special: The ballet is often performed and/or televised around Christmastime.
  • Christmas Songs: A purely instrumental example, but the score is heard so often around the holidays, it definitely counts.
  • Darker and Edgier: Some versions, like the Marinsky and Ratamansky versions, apply this to the "Waltz Of The Snowflakes" segment, where the snowflakes take on an almost menacing tone and convey the sense that Clara and the Prince are trapped within a potentially fatal snowstorm. The Marinsky version is literally this—lighting of the scene is very dark and the snowflake dancers are clad in black.
    • The Harlem Nutcracker has moments of this, as one of the elderly Clara's flashbacks takes us through the highs and lows of black history, not shying away from the ugliness.
  • Demoted to Extra: Clara and Drosselmeyer in The Nutcraker A Christmas Carol.
  • Doppelgänger: In some productions the Nutcracker has a "real life" counterpart that the Clara/Marie character interacts with either during the Christmas party in act 1 or in the end after she wakes up from her dream.
  • Ethereal Choir: The "Waltz Of The Snowflakes" piece is often accompanied by this. Taken to downright eerie levels in some productions—in the Marinsky version, the singing is done by an actual children's choir onstage—the ghosts of children who have frozen to death in these woods in winters past.
  • Foreshadowing: In some productions the dolls/puppets in Act 1 give us hints of the story to come by their costumes and/or doing a dance that tells a story.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Averted. The only antagonist is the Mouse King, while the Snow Queen and the Sugarplum Fairy are both quite nice.
  • The High Queen: The Sugarplum Fairy seems to be this.
  • Hot Consort: Sugarplum's partner, the Cavalier, is a genderflipped version of this.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The "Sugar Rum Cherry" sequence in The Harlem Nutcracker production. The Arabian dance in most productions.
    • Some productions cast Drosselmeyer as a suave young man rather than an eccentric old one.
  • Improbable Weapon User: In most versions, Clara kills the Mouse King by throwing her shoe at him.
  • Level Ate: The Land of Sweets, populated with various dancing delicacies and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
  • Mind Screw: The story ends up being replete with dream logic.
  • National Stereotypes: Most of the Act II divertissements are made of this trope.
  • One-Gender Race: The Snowflakes and the Flowers come across this way in most productions, being portrayed by all-female groups of corps dancers.
    • Averted in productions that have the snowflakes and flowers are portrayed by male and female dancers.
  • Parent Service: Most of the dances are playful or, at most, romantic. Some performances of Arabian Coffee, however, involve a woman in a harem costume climbing out of a giant mug. It's usually considered an adult drink.
  • Peacock Girl: The Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance of Coffee has a woman in a peacock costume.
  • Plant Person: The Waltz of the Flowers.
  • Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Some versions have Clara transform into a young woman when she enters the Land of Sweets (or even earlier, in the woods sequence before the Waltz Of The Snowflakes) usually for practical purposes (so that she can do more difficult and complicated dancing in Act II).
    • The Harlem Nutcracker makes Clara an elderly woman and turns the whole story into a flashback. Graeme Murphy's version uses a similar plot device.
    • The Ratmansky version has a variation of this trope as there are adult Doppelgangers of Clara and the Nutcracker who are portrayed by children in this production.
  • Race Lift:
    • The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker makes all the characters black, places the story in the modern day and an urban setting.
    • The Harlem Nutcracker makes all the characters black and includes an Age Lift by making Clara an old woman and the Nutcracker Prince the ghost of her late husband. The Land of Sweets sequence is a flashback through their life together. She wakes up on the couch in her living room, echoing the All Just a Dream ending of many productions, before it segues into the Or Was It a Dream? ending that is also typical of many productions, as well as a Dying Dream: The ghost of her husband appears to her again, only this time to escort her into the afterlife.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: It, or something like it, will often appear in the Russian dance in the Land of Sweets.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Due to a more complicated pas de deux for Masha in the second act, the Mariinsky production will cast an eleven- or twelve-year-old student from the Vaganova Academy as Masha, and another, older student as Princess Masha for the second act. The best students at the Academy will often have played both roles by the time they graduate.
  • Standard Snippet: Tchaikovsky's score is the source of such omnipresent music as "Dance of the Reed Flutes," "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," and "Russian Dance (Trepak)." Unless you've never heard any music at all, it's a pretty sure bet that you've heard this one.
  • Stock Scream: The "Wilhelm Scream" is heard in the film of the Pacific Northwest Ballet version, when a mouse soldier is killed.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Unless the director makes a very strong effort to avert it, the plot tends to stall once the characters reach the Land of Sweets. The Harlem Nutcracker mostly averts this; as stated above, this sequence is a chronological flashback through her life — meeting her husband, marriage, children, etc.
  • Winter Royal Lady: The Snow Queen. The Snow King, who appears in some productions, is a genderflipped version of this trope.


Example of: