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Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) is known in the realm of dance for his three celebrated ballets. His final ballet, The Nutcracker, is based a story by that German master of the fantasical, the Romantic writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, entitled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816). The composer spent the spring of 1891 in Rouen, working on the score for the ballet and on his opera Iolanta, and in New York, where he participated in the opening festivities for Carnegie Hall. The two works premiered on a double-bill in St. Petersburg in December of 1892.
In the ballet, Clara gets a Nutcracker as a Christmas gift from her creepy godfather, Drosselmeyer. The Nutcracker comes to life, defeats an army of mice, and whisks Clara away to the Kingdom of Sweets for what amounts to an act-long divertissement. There, the Sugar Plum Fairy welcomes Clara, the Nutcracker Prince and Drosselmeyer. The Nutcracker tells the Sugar Plum Fairy about their magical battle with the mice. Gifts are presented to Clara. The subjects of this enchanted kingdom - all the dolls from under Clara's tree and all the flowers from her Victorian bouquet - have grown to life size and dance in her honor. But all dreams must come to an end, and children must return home to their loving families. So, Clara, too, must depart the land of dreams and return home where her parents are waiting for her.
With childlike innocence, Tchaikovsky conjures up the candy kingdom in this second act, introducing various characters based on Clara's presents, such as the Sugar-Plum Fairy, whose dance features the tinkling celesta, an instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered during a trip to Paris, or the Chinese dance (tea), the Arabian dance (coffee), or the Spanish Dance (chocolate). Tchaikovsky also provides the necessary sweeping tunes (the Pas de Deux, which opens with a long-breathed melody for the cello before building to an overwhelming climax, the glorious Waltz of the Flowers, and the Grand Waltz that closes the ballet).