The Best Versions of “The Nutcracker Ballet”

I watch “The Nutcracker Ballet” every year around Christmastime, usually via film, and over the years, I’ve easily seen a dozen different versions, so I thought it might be fun to share the top five versions of this classic story (and later this week, we’ll discuss why this story has had such staying power as compared to other, similar fantasies written around the same time).

The Nutcracker with Baryshnikov and Kirkland (1977) – For me, this is the most classic of Nutcrackers. I grew up watching Baryshnikov and Kirkland dance across the stage, and even though I disliked the ending, where the whole kingdom of sweets was just a dream, I still enjoy the ballet all the same. The dancing is powerful, the choreography is gorgeous, and the whole experience is “THE NUTCRACKER” for me.

New York City Ballet (1993) – I rediscovered this one this year, and it was rather fun, seeing Mccaulay Caulkin of Home Alone fame dancing as the Nutcracker Prince. At first, I thought it was just a gimmick to drum up publicity or bring in more viewers, but he apparently did study dance and he does quite well for his age. It also features Kevin Kline as the narrator, and he’s so serious and intent in tone that I didn’t even recognize him until the credits.

There is a lot of color and vibrancy to this version, but it feels a bit more fairy-tale-ish than most, probably because the main characters are so young and any real romance that could happen is relegated to when they’re quite a bit older. Still, it’s a delightful production and well worth adding to one’s repertoire.

The Royal Ballet (2009) – This is another favorite of mine, with a bit more diversity among the dancers than the one with Baryshnikov and Kirkland (the sugar plum fairy seems to be of asian heritage, and she does a marvelous job). This time, though, the story is clearly a fantasy rather than a dream. Everything in the ballet actually happens. Drosselmeyer’s nephew was turned into a nutcracker, and he believes Clara can free him–which, of course, she does.

However, I think the romance is far from satisfactory; the Nutcracker may be her first love, but I doubt he’ll win her heart forever…at least, not if the young, dashing and handsome guest at her parents’ party has anything to do with it. For me, this story could use a sequel where the kind young man rivals the Nutcracker and wins Clara, but then, I like him better. 🙂

Ballet Staatsoper Berlin (2014) – This is what I affectionately call the “Un-Nutcracker,” because it’s unlike any other Nutcracker I’ve ever seen. The story has strong steampunk overtones due to the costume and set choices, and instead of being about the magic of Christmas, it features a young girl (or princess, perhaps?) who seems to have been taken from her mother due to an attack of marauders. She grows up in a foster family in Germany, but her godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, is ever on the watch to bring her back to her true home, and one Christmas, with the help of the Nutcracker prince, he does just that.

This version of Herr Drosselmeyer does much more dancing than most, and there is a strong romantic feel between him and Clara’s mother. The various dances in the land of sweets become diplomatic gestures from ambassadors’ to Clara’s mother’s court, and in the end, Clara and Drosselmeyer go off in a hot air balloon. If you like the Nutcracker music but are tired of the same old story, I’d definitely recommend giving this one a try.

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo by DarrenHester, Creative Commons

6 thoughts on “The Best Versions of “The Nutcracker Ballet”

  1. Wow, the “Un-Nutcracker” certainly sounds intriguing! I have the Royal Ballet coming from the library and we just watched the ’77 version again. It’s darker than I remember, but so “powerful,” as you said. Looking forward to seeing the Royal Ballet!

    Where did you find the “Un-Nutracker?”


  2. I watch The Macaulay Culkin version every year and l enjoy it. The Sugar Plum fairy does make it look effortless but watching her steps and memorizing each move proves that her dance role is the most difficult! Someday I hope to watch a stage version in New York at Christmas.


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