Ballet in two acts with choreography by Ivanov, libretto by Petipa, music by Tchaikovsky, and designs by M. I. Botcharov, K. Ivanov, and I. Vsevolojsky. Premiered 18 Dec. 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg with Antonietta Dell'Era (Sugar Plum Fairy), Pavel Gerdt (Prince Coqueluche), Sergei Legat (Nutcracker), and Stanislava Belinskaya (Clara). Designed to be part of a double bill with Tchaikovsky's opera Iolanta, it has instead become the quintessential Christmas ballet, and as such is probably the most performed ballet in the world. It is based on a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann, Der Nussknacker und der Mäusekönig. A young girl, usually called Clara or Masha, is given a nutcracker doll for Christmas. She falls asleep and dreams that she saves the doll's life in a battle with the Mouse King. The nutcracker is then transformed into a handsome prince who whisks her away to the Kingdom of Sweets, where the Sugar Plum Fairy stages a grand divertissement with them as honoured guests. Originally this was to have been Petipa's ballet, but ill health forced him to bow out, leaving his assistant Ivanov to choreograph it. Little of the Ivanov choreography has survived (the grand pas de deux in Act II is his) and the ballet has been open to much re-interpretation by modern choreographers who have attempted to find psychological or sexual resonances in the tale of Clara's coming of age.
Despite its current ubiquity the ballet gained widespread popularity only after the Second World War. The first staging in London took place in 1934 when Sergeyev mounted it for Vic-Wells Ballet. W. Christensen undertook the first full-length American staging for the San Francisco Ballet in 1944. Balanchine staged it for New York City Ballet in 1954, Vainonen for the Kirov in 1934, and Grigorovich for the Bolshoi in 1966. Cranko did a Nutcracker for Stuttgart in 1966, Nureyev did one for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 1967, Flindt for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1971, Neumeier for Frankfurt Ballet in 1971, and Baryshnikov for American Ballet Theatre in 1976. Virtually every large-scale ballet company in the world has its own version. Two leading modern dance choreographers have staged iconoclastic versions: Mark Morris's The Hard Nut (Mark Morris Dance Group, Brussels, 1991) and Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker (Adventures in Motion Pictures, 1992).