The Nutcracker

Ballet San Jose
Choreography by Dennis Nahat

Story of the ballet

Nutcracker story On a magical Christmas eve, when the world seems a happy and carefree place to be, the Tannenbaum household is preparing for an exciting party. Some of their relations, the Meyerbold and Kronenberg families, are hurrying to what they know will be a festive evening, full of delights, with loads of good things to eat and lots of warm holiday cheer.

The honored guest at this traditional holiday party is to be, as always, Godfather Drosselmeyer, a most kindly old gentleman but just a bit eccentric. Everyone is eagerly awaiting his arrival; the children are particularly glad to see him because delightful and unexpected things happen when he is around. Their Godfather Drosselmeyer is a master craftsman, and Christmas marks the high point of his year’s work. Each year for the Christmas party, he presents gifts to hisbelovedrelatives, skillfully matching his gifts to each person's unique personality.

In the midst of the fun and dancing and merrymaking, dear old Godfather Drosselmeyer (who is apt to be trifle absentminded) is struck by the realization that he has quite overlooked his grand surprise! Forthwith, he proceeds to set things right, producing from the deepest recesses of his gift basket a Nutcracker -- a rather unusual sort of Nutcracker -- a doll in the form of a little man. This doll is, in fact, an enchanted object and Drosselmeyer sets out to tell the doll's astounding history.

His fantastic tale concerns the fate of young Prince Alexis, long, long ago heir to the throne of the faraway land of Muscovy. In the royal palace, there dwelt scores of unwelcome mice (as mice generally are). These particular mice were particularly unwelcome for they were ruled by their own truly dreadful Mouse King. This evil king was a sorcerer, a wicked magician whose only wish was to usurp the throne of Muscovy thus taking for himself all power in the kingdom.

One day, having caught Prince Alexis unaware, the Mouse King gave him a terribly nasty bite whereby the Prince was transformed into -- of all things -- a Nutcracker! The Mouse King's wicked spell could be broken and Prince Alexis restored to his true identity only if some brave and virtuous maiden should destroy the horrible King of the Mice. Alas, where would such a girl be found? Sadly, it would appear that Godfather Drosselmeyer’s Nutcracker is doomed forever to remain nothing other than this wooden doll. What an awful state of affairs! What a dreary dilemma!

The captivated guests applauded this fascinating history, but little Maria Tannenbaum is truely taken by the fantastic tale. For her, the Nutcracker embodies a strange fascination both mysterious and compelling. She begs Godfather Drosselmeyer to give her the Nutcracker doll. He is not easily persuaded to relinquish the cherished doll; but ultimately Maria has her way, for she is a most charming and persuasive girl. And so, the Nutcracker is now hers.

Everyone else having gone off to dinner, Maria, alone in the parlor, dances with her doll cradled in her arms. Now she, like her cousins who soon join her, posesses a new doll of her own -- and not at all an ordinary doll.

The girls’ quiet celebration is short-lived. They are noisily interrupted by the boys showing off their new toys, all types of musical instruments. These wretched and irritating boys march to and fro, noisily about the parlor, boistrtously imitating the toy soldiers which Godfather Drosselmeyer has given to Maria’s impish younger brother, Karl.

As one might expect, a fight develops, as will happen among boys and girls from time to time. During their tussle, Maria’s naughty younger brother, Hans, manages to break the head off her beloved Nutcracker doll. Happily, Godfather Drosselmeyer repairs the damage quite nicely, his dinner napkin serving as a bandage for the injured doll.

When the dinner is over, the guests resume their revelry, celebrating and dancing until they are quite out of breath and utterly exhausted. Only then do they finally depart, leaving the Tannenbaums, who go straight away off to bed. Again, with some reluctance as he leaves, Godfather Drosselmeyer allows Maria to keep the Nutcracker.

The excitement of the evening’s revelry has been too much for Maria, who cannot simply go off to sleep as the others do. She steals back into the deserted parlor to fetch her lovely doll and once more admire the lovely dress which had been her first gift from Godfather Drosselmeyer. There Maria drifts into sleep...

Perhaps it is only in a dream that she awakens with a start. Or perhaps she really does awaken to witness a most fearful and distressing spectacle! She clutches the Nutcracker, while all around her is a special magic. Wondrous things start to happen in the parlour. To her amazement, the tree begins to grow until it reaches giant proportions. The mice and the toys under the tree come to life, growing as big as Maria herself.

The parlor is crawling with mice who pursue her hither and yon, growing ever larger and scarier. Seeking again the protection of her armchair, she is again startled, but this time by her own Nutcracker doll-- grown suddenly as big as life!

Meanwhile, as the parlor itself undergoes some sort of mystifying transformation, Maria is confounded by the appearance of the same dreadful Mouse King who, in Godfather Drosselmeyer’s story, had long ago cast his evil spell upon young Prince Alexis.

Pursued and confused, Maria finds herself in the midst of a fierce battle which rages between the forces of the King of the Mice and the Nutcracker, who is assisted by Karl’s steadfast toy soldiers. Although they fight valiantly, these soldiers are a bit lacking in nimbleness and agility, being made of wood ... quite unlike the prnacing mice.

At the peak of the battle, at the very moment when the Mouse King is on the verge of subduing the Nutcracker, Maria takes hold of the Nutcracker’s sword and deals the Mouse King a mighty blow, slaying him on the spot. All this excitement is more than she can bear and she faints dead away!

The Mouse King’s bereaved subjects form a funeral procession and carry him off, never, one would hope, to be seen or heard from again.

Maria’s bravery and devotion have broken the spell of the Mouse King, and Alexis is restored to his proper form and state as Prince and heir to the throne of Muscovy. And, wonder of wonders, it is Maria who will be his Princess.

Around Alexis and Maria, a magical forest has appeared, and a snowstorm is in full progress. They are surrounded by masses of lovely, twirling, waltzing snowflakes. Maria, fearing for a moment that she is lost, is quickly rejoined by her Prince and together, they are borne away by a wonderful great snowbird. Sped upon their way by the swirling snowflakes, they set out upon a magical journey to faraway Muscovy.

Act 2

On their journey to Muscovy, the homeland of Prince Alexis, Maria and the Prince pay visits to several exotic foreign lands.

First among these is the beautiful Kingdom of Castile where they are warmly and hospitably received by the King and Queen. However, their visit must be brief, for time is short and the journey to Muscovy is long.

Stopping off in the mysterious Land of the Shifting Sands, they are lavishly and sumptuously entertained in the tent of the Sultan Ahkmed, where the ladies of the Sultan’s harem dance for them.

In the fabled Land of the Ivory Pagoda, they are presented to some of the Emperor’s concubines and warriors. Amazed and intrigued by this unusual assemblage, they join in the dancing.

Arriving at long last in Muscovy, they are greeted by friends of Prince Alexis. There is great rejoicing at his return and his friends hasten to carry the happy tidings of his homecoming to his father and mother, the Tsar and Tsarina.

As they meet in the throne room, the Tsar rushes to meet his long lost son and heir, now returned to him. The Tsarina is overcome by emotion and joy at this unexpected turn of events. Prince Alexis recounts the circumstances which have led to his return to Muscovy, where he may now once more occupy his proper position. None of this, he explains, would have transpired were it not for Maria’s selfless bravery and her devoted efforts on his behalf.

As a gesture of gratitude for Maria’s admirable behavior, the Tsar and Tsarina proclaim that a royal ball in honor of Maria and Prince Alexis, now restored to the throne, will be held that very evening.

Prince Alexis undertakes to provide Maria with some instruction in the proper conduct at a royal court. She has, after all, had rather little experience in such matters as courtly demeanor and formal dancing, for Vienna and Muscovy are really quite dissimilar. They begin to waltz, and in the twinkling of an eye they are dancing with the other guests at a resplendent ball in the royal palace. Upon the appearance of the Tsar and Tsarina in the ballroom, the guests of honor are regaled by a Grand Pas de Deux danced especially for them! Then everyone takes part in the dancing of a stately Polonaise.

For Maria, it is all like a dream come true, a charmed evening which she might have imagined in some extraordinarily extravagant fantasy.

As the evening and the dancing are approaching their climax, Maria’s dream is beginning to fade and dim. The ballroom and dancers are slipping away, disappearing into the shadows. Alexis gathers Maria into his arms, where she falls at once into a deep sleep. Once again, quite inexplixcably and mysteriously, they are in the Tannenbaum’s parlor! There Prince Alexis tenderly places the sleeping Maria in her armchair; he bows to her, and is gone, fading as does an image in a dream that is coming to an end.

Maria’s parents return to the parlor and they are bewildered by what they find. Why has Maria fallen asleep in the chair? And, why is she wearing her new dress? They discover the Nutcracker lying on the floor beside her chair. And, the doll is all in one piece again- as good as new! A most curious set of circumstances indeed! But, this can all doubtless be explained at some other time. For now, it’s off to bed for everyone. At such a late hour they should all be sound asleep!

Nutcracker bow And, here we are, almost (but not quite) all alone in a parlor in a house in old Vienna. Have wonders and marvels transpired here? Was it only a young girl’s fanciful dream -- or was it perhaps yet another fantastic tale told by Godfather Drosselmeyer?

At top: Dennis Nahat (Drosselmeyer) introducing the story at a free-for-school-students performance
Right: The Nutcracker takes a bow
Photos: © Bob Shomler 2002, 2003; program notes copyright © 2008 Ballet San Jose.

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