"The Nutcracker", premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892, is one of the most enduring and popular works of the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). It is based on the 1816 short story with the full title of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by the German author E.T. A Hoffmann (1776-1822) whose stories also form the background of Offenbach's operetta "The Tales of Hoffmann".

The story is of a young girl named Clara (though in Hoffmann's text that was the name of her doll, and the heroine is called Maria) and is set on Christmas Eve - the ballet is generally performed at Christmas time. It settles on the titular Nutcracker - a toy that comes to life, and is transformed into a kind of Prince Charming, who takes Clara to the magical Land of Sweets. This is ruled over by the Sugar Plum Fairy, whose dance is probably the most famous excerpt from the ballet.

Readers may be surprised to hear that at its premiere, the ballet was by no means universally well received, with the battle scenes viewed as chaotic, and the Sugar Plum Fairy herself unkindly described as podgy. However, time has been kind to it, and also the suite drawn from it, which is now a standard part of the orchestral repertoire.

That said, more recently there has been unease about the "yellowface" used in the Chinese dance in it, and modern productions, whilst maintaining the magic, are more culturally sensitive.

More Info: en.wikipedia.org