Best "Nutcracker" Movie of all Time

by jptanabe

If you can't see "The Nutcracker" live, this is a brilliant and timeless performance, my favorite.

"The Nutcracker" is one of the most beloved ballets of all time. This is partly because of its Christmas setting, so it's guaranteed an audience every year, but mostly because of the amazing music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The fact that there are several roles for children doesn't hurt either as it makes it very family friendly!

"The Nutcracker" is such a part of the Christmas season I can't imagine December without seeing it at least once. If you can't see it live, this is a brilliant and timeless performance, my favorite.

Rudolf Nureyev's performance of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" is timeless!

This movie captures the historic 1968 performance at Covent Garden in London with Rudolf Nureyev in the dual role of Herr Drosselmeyer/the Prince and featuring Merle Park as Clara. This version was choreographed by Nureyev, and it includes artists of the Royal Ballet and lots of children from the Royal Ballet Junior School. If you have never seen Nureyev dance, you should watch this! And if you love "The Nutcracker" you will love this movie.

The Story of "The Nutcracker"

The story of "The Nutcracker" is adapted from a story written in 1816 by E. T. A. Hoffmann called "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," which tells the magical tale of a young girl whose Christmas gift of a nutcracker comes alive.

The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King, Illustration from "The Nutcracker"
The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King, Illustration from "The Nutcracker"

Hoffmann's story is of a young man, nephew of an inventor called Herr Drosselmeyer, who fails to complete the task required to marry the princess. As a result, he is cursed by being turned into a "nutcracker" - with a large head, wide grinning mouth, and beard. The princess rejects him for being ugly and he is banished. Herr Drosselmeyer gives his god-daughter Marie a nutcracker for Christmas and tells her the tale. After various "dreams" in which the nutcracker comes to life and they defeat the evil Mouse King, Marie tells her toy nutcracker that she would never reject him as the princess did but would love him no matter how ugly he was. This breaks the spell and Herr Drosselmeyer arrives with his nephew, magically restored to his handsome self. The nephew marries Marie and takes her away to the magical kingdom.


Hoffman's Original Tale and Dumas' Adaptation


This beautiful volume includes English translations not of the original "Nutcracker and Mouse King" written by E.T.A. Hoffmann, but also of "The Tale of the Nutcracker," which is Alexandre Dumas' adaptation of this intriguing tale.


The Ballet

In 1892, Tchaikovsky set a variation of Hoffmann's story by French author Alexandre Dumas to music. Then, together with renowned choreographer Marius Petipa (working with Lev Ivanov) they created the ballet "The Nutcracker."

The Imperial Ballet's original production of the Petipa/Ivanov/Tchaikovsky ballet "The Nutcracker"
The Imperial Ballet's original production of the Petipa/Ivanov/Tchaikovsky ballet "The Nutcracker"

The first act is really wonderful and entertaining. It begins with a Christmas party at the house of a young girl's family. Her godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, brings a bunch of amazing toys as gifts, and they all dance. The girl, Clara, receives a toy nutcracker as a gift, and she is enchanted by it.

Clara falls asleep with her toy and a dream sequence begins in which the nutcracker comes to life, a bunch of mice (I always thought they were rats!) appear, and a big battle ensues with toy soldiers coming to life as well - it's such fun! The Mouse King is defeated and Clara goes off on a tour of a magical land with the nutcracker who has become a prince.

Snowflake Waltz in the White Forest (The Nutcracker Act I, Scene III) performed by The New York City Ballet in 1954.
Snowflake Waltz in the White Forest (The Nutcracker Act I, Scene III) performed by The New York City Ballet in 1954.

The second act is a series of exotic dances in this magical kingdom, some of which can be pretty amazing - Sugar Plum fairies are one of the attractions - and the music is quite glorious. The conclusion is usually that the girl wakes up in her chair, still holding the nutcracker; it was all a dream.

Ballerina Maria Tallchief and Others Performing the Nutcracker Ballet at City Center By: Alfred Eisenstaedt
Ballerina Maria Tallchief and Others Performing the Nutcracker Ballet at City Center By: Alfred Eisenstaedt

The ballet has been developed in different ways by various choreographers. Of particular note is George Balanchine's version, which has been performed every year by the New York City Ballet since 1954. Also well known is the American Ballet Theatre version which premiered in 1976, choreographed by Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Unlike the "Wizard of Oz" where Dorothy has learned a clear message - "there's no place like home" - as a result of her travels, the girl in "The Nutcracker" does not appear to have learned anything so straightforward. Mostly she just watches all the exotic dances in the second act, while the Prince actually participates dancing the final Pas de Deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy. In some, she doesn't wake up but remains in this fairytale kingdom, forever a child.

My Favorite Version


Choreographed and danced by Rudolf Nureyev


Recorded in 1968 at Covent Garden in London, this is a truly historic production of Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker." Rudolf Nureyev was dancing at the peak of his career, and Merle Park gives an outstanding performance as Clara. Digitally re-mastered for DVD the picture is much improved over our old VHS tape. Although the sound and video quality is still not quite the level you would find in a contemporary recording, the dancing surely is!

What's Special about this Version? - Rudolf Nureyev of course!

Rudolf Nureyev rehearsing By Anthony Crickmay
Rudolf Nureyev rehearsing By Anthony Crickmay

Rudolof Nureyev was an incredible dancer, one of the best ever. It was not just his technique but his innovative and charismatic style, his utter dedication to performing a wide repertoire of pieces, everywhere, on stages throughout the world that led the world to embrace ballet like never before.

Born to a poor family in the Soviet Union, he discovered his passion for dance and ballet as a child. Despite his father's disapproval, he gained entrance to the prestigious Kirov Ballet School in Leningrad. After graduation he joined the Kirov Ballet, dancing with them for several years. He then famously defected from the Soviet Union when they toured Paris.


Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Birthday Offering by the Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House By Anthony Crickmay
Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Birthday Offering by the Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House By Anthony Crickmay

A highlight of his career in the West was when he joined the Royal Ballet in London, dancing with Margot Fonteyn for several years despite their age difference. It was fortunate for the world of ballet that they met and formed this incredible partnership. They were also lifelong friends.

Nureyev was such an innovator and strong personality he had a reputation of being "difficult" since he changed and added to classic choreographies. Although he continued to dance and perform until ill health prevented him, it was almost inevitable that he began choreographing in his own right. Here he changed ballet forever, giving the male dancer a role and identity, rather than just as a partner whose function was to carry the principal ballerina during the adagios. Nureyev's male characters have solos, amazing solos, and often dance the same choreography as the principal ballerina.

"The Nutcracker" is one of six Tchaikovsky ballets he mounted in his career, and it is considered to be the best new interpretation of the story.

"Grand Pas de Deux" - Danced by Rudolf Nureyev and Merle Park

The "Grand Pas de Deux" is always beautiful in "The Nutcracker." This features not only Nureyev's great dancing but his innovative choreography, so it's pretty outstanding. And his final lift of Merle Park, where he holds his leg parallel to hers, is to die for!

Nureyev's Interpretation

The story of "The Nutcracker" ballet is well-known to be confusing, and that's without all the variations! For starters, the girl has different names: Sometimes she is called Marie, like in the book, and sometimes Clara.

In his interpretation, Nureyev has Clara grow up and dance with the Prince in the magical kingdom. It is a coming of age tale, where she sheds her childish dress and emerges, like a glorious butterfly, to dance with her Prince. And when the Prince is Nureyev she can't go wrong!

Nureyev's version does seem to give it a clearer meaning. But there is still a confusion: In this version, the Prince is not played by the same dancer as the nutcracker when he comes to life - he just becomes the soldier captain who fights the mice. Rudolf Nureyev plays the Prince and he's just been playing Herr Drosselmeyer! This is definitely a bit odd. But for me it works, because it gives Nureyev more to do in the first act. He makes a great Herr Drosselmeyer! And since Merle Park also dances that amazing "Grand Pas de Deux" with Nureyev, everyone seems to have several parts, which doesn't make the story any clearer.

And in case you're expecting the Sugar Plum Fairy to dance with her "candy canes," that doesn't happen in this version! Confused us for a while because we kept wondering what happened to those candy canes, but the ballet is just fine without them.

"The Nutcracker" on Video

Someone kindly put the whole of this video on Youtube! The music quality is pretty awful, or maybe it's just the speakers on my computer are bad! And sometimes it's a bit jerky, so the dancing looks worse (or better!) than it really is. But you get the idea.

It starts with the audience arriving at Covent Garden (remember this was 1968 in London if you think they look odd)! The ballet begins with scenes outside Clara's home with kids playing in the street and families arriving. Then Herr Drosselmeyer arrives with special gifts. He's really cool with his eye patch don't you think! And the dolls dancing are tremendous.


Then we have Herr Drosselmeyer comforting Clara after repairing the broken Nutcracker doll. It then goes into the classic "Grandparents" dance - really funny! And finally, Clara falls asleep and the mice come (so cute!), and, wait for it, the Christmas tree rises up! Can't make Clara small you see, so the tree gets bigger. Love it!

King Mouse appears too, he's not cute but all the mice bowing down to him are! And, finally the Nutcracker comes to life. And then there's the big battle with the mice - another of my favorite parts!

The rest of the movie has some amazing scenes. But you know, it's a lot better with your own copy!

After You've Watched "The Nutcracker"

You just have to buy one!

Everyone who goes to see a performance of "The Nutcracker" wants to buy their own wooden nutcracker to take home. We have two in our collection ... so far!

Nutcrackers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. One of ours is a tall skinny "prince" version, while the other is the short, chubby "king" style. Funny isn't it, how princes are tall and handsome while kings are short and stout!


Picture of some nutcrackers
Picture of some nutcrackers

More about Rudolf Nureyev

Updated: 11/26/2023, jptanabe
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DerdriuMarriner on 03/12/2019

jptanabe, Thank you for the backstory, plot and product lines. Have you seen the film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms?

jptanabe on 03/11/2019

"So-called serious music" - good one! Yes, classics are just that, timeless.

Tolovaj on 03/11/2019

Nutcracker is a classic. We can't imagine a New Year's program without it. I believe it's also a nice way to introduce wide audience to so-called more serious music.

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