Just like Miracle on 34th Street or A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Nutcracker is a time-honored holiday tradition. If you live near any sort of ballet company, you’ve probably attended a production with your family around this time of year. If you grew up taking ballet lessons, chances are you appeared in a production of The Nutcracker at some point.
E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the ballet is loosely based, was actually considered too scary for children. In Hoffmann’s story, a young girl named Marie falls in love with a nutcracker doll that she sees come alive when she goes to sleep at night. During a battle between the nutcracker and a seven-headed mouse king, Marie falls and hurts herself. While she’s healing, she’s forced to listen to stories about a rodent mother seeking revenge for her children’s deaths, someone who can never go to sleep without facing dire consequences, and other sordid tales. Marie’s family won’t let her talk about her dreams, so she vows to love the ugly nutcracker. He comes to life, and they get married. Marie escapes from her real life and goes to live in the doll kingdom, never to return to her family again.
Hoffmann’s dark tale was then adapted by Alexandre Dumas (yep, The Three Musketeers guy), who made it much more family-friendly. Dumas’ L’histoire d’un casse noisette is the version of The Nutcracker most ballet companies perform today, to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. The Pacific Northwest Ballet returned to Hoffmann’s original story in the 1980s, teaming up with Where the Wild Things Are author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who designed the sets for this endeavor.
Other loose adaptations of the classic tale do exist, and you’ll see a few of them in the roundup ahead. This collection of stunning performances from around the world showcases what a global phenomenon the ballet has become after George Balanchine relaunched it into the spotlight in 1954. Get ready to be transported to the land of snowflakes and Sugar Plum Fairies.