How often have little girls identified with Clara dancing in the arms of her Nutcracker King and later found themselves holding onto the barre in mirrored practice rooms, stretching and standing on point? They would become like Clara, moving effortlessly within storied ballets.

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Ballet (1892) is one of these; it is loosely based upon the Prussian Romantic E. T. A. Hoffman’s fairy tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The resulting two-hour production penetrates imaginations and transports audiences, worldwide, to clashes between good and evil.

The ballet opens with the Stahlbaums and their children, Fritz and Clara, welcoming guests to their Christmas Eve party. A late arrival, Clara’s godfather and village toy-maker, presents her with a hand-carved Nutcracker whose grim countenance was to protect her from evil and surround her with good. But in the children’s ensuing tussle with the Nutcracker, it gets broken, and Clara grieves the loss of her protector before falling asleep beneath the Christmas tree.

Within her larger-than-life dream, the bandaged Nutcracker in her arms, she enters worlds of darkness and light: the vanquishing of the seven-headed Mouse King and his army of mice, followed by the sleigh ride with the Nutcracker King to the Land of Sweets, filled with dancers from around the world.  

The composer’s discovery of the celesta, in Paris, adds a tinkling to the ballet’s score and seems to lighten the intricate steps of the dancers. Especially is this true of the Sugar Plum Fairy who moves like breeze-lilting streamers in a rose garden.

No wonder that The Nutcracker Ballet has become a Christmas tradition through the generations.