Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1892 with music composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the story of The Nutcracker was based on E.T.A. Hoffman's tale "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." The plot of Hoffmann's original story is much more complex than that of the ballet, in which events had to be considerably simplified. Set in nineteenth century Germany, The Nutcracker begins at a charming Christmas party at which the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer gives his little niece Clara a magical toy that takes her on an unforgettable journey through the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.
In sharp contrast to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite, which was instantly popular in the 1890s, the ballet itself did not begin to achieve its great popularity until after the George Balanchine staging became a hit in New York City. Since then, The Nutcracker has become perhaps the most well-known of all ballets, performed primarily during the Christmas season. In the United States it has transcended its origins as a mere ballet or piece of classical music, becoming a part of American tradition.