The ballet as the most perfect synthesis of music and movement has meant a special challenge for the Salzburg marionettes from early on. Not for nothing, after all, does Kleist contrast the marionette with the dancer - not the performer. And so the first pure ballet study of the Salzburg marionettes - the dance of Anna Pavlova to the music of Camille Saint-Saëns "The Swan" - was more than just a bow to the tradition of Russian ballet art, with which Hermann Aicher and his puppets were confronted for the first time on their trip to Russia in 1936. The puppet of Anna Pavlova, one of the most elaborate puppets to date, and its consummate grace became a special attraction of the Salzburg Marionettes. Nevertheless, it took a long time before the Salzburg Marionettes took up the ballet challenge again.
A ballet pantomime based on Mozart's popular "Little Night Music" provided the further occasion in 1951, and the ballet interludes for "Die Fledermaus" also had to be created. At that time, Hermann Aicher brought in real choreographers: the dancer Hans Birkenstock at first, then the choreographer Sylvia Wenschau. And in 1953, a real ballet evening was ventured for the first time - to Mozart's Serenade and the "Dying Swan", Sylvia Wenschau choreographed the musical numbers of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" - imaginative dance scenes with the ice skater, the Arabian belly dancer and the delicious "Four Seasons".
The idea of making a full-length ballet out of this dance sequence, which was always particularly popular with the audience, of performing not only the suite but the complete ballet "The Nutcracker", then arose from Gretl Aicher's wish to give her ensemble and the Salzburg Marionettes a special artistic task after the death of her father. In addition, there was a favorable constellation that united Klaus Gmeiner's enthusiasm for this special theme, the dancing and choreographic experience of the Salzburg ballet master Leonard Salaz, and the enthusiasm of the puppeteers for the imaginative task.
Klaus Gmeiner wrote a scenario for the Salzburg marionettes based on the fairy tale by E.T. A. Hoffmann "Nutcracker and Mouse King", which in the version by Alexander Dumas had served Tchaikovsky as the material for his ballet, which cleverly combines the already existing characters and pictorial ideas with the enchanting attitude of the music, which is at the same time close to children and yet so much reflects the artistic and social sphere of the fading 19th century. Tchaikovsky, then already at the end of his life, had originally arranged the fairy tale as a children's play in his sister's house. Only then did it become a ballet, which the composer worked on in the years 1891 and 1892, interrupted by various journeys and distracted by personal experiences that Tchaikovsky bore heavily. Nevertheless, the music for "The Nutcracker" is filled with cheerfulness and lightness, and is full of the joy of color and fantasy. On March 25, 1892, Tchaikovsky completed the work and, in a letter to his publisher, spoke of the "wonderful feeling" this work had meant to him. In the fall of 1892, "The Nutcracker" premiered at the Imperial Marinksi Theater in Petersburg, after Tsar Alexander III himself, based on the dress rehearsal, gave permission; a year later, in November 1893, Tchaikovsky died in Petersburg. "The Nutcracker," however, became, along with "The Sleeping Beauty," his most popular composition and one of the most successful ballets ever.
In 2017, the Salzburg Marionettes' production was once again thoroughly revised, re-lit, and expanded to include key scenes, such as the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, or the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." Numerous adaptations in the stage design and clever directorial ideas now make the plot of the ballet much more comprehensible and much closer in effect to the whimsical original by E.T.A Hoffmann.
On Christmas Eve, guests gather at the home of Clara's parents and her brother Fritz. Their uncle Drosselmeier is also announced. He is the last to appear at the party and brings Clara a nutcracker. Fritz tries to snatch the cherished gift from Clara. Clara lovingly protects the nutcracker. A dance by the guests concludes the festive evening. Clara remains alone in the room and falls asleep with the little Nutcracker in her lap.
It is midnight. An army of mice threatens the Nutcracker, Clara protects him. Drosselmeier mysteriously appears. He is no longer the kind uncle, but a magician. He drives away the mice and transforms the Nutcracker into a prince. Suddenly Clara and the prince are standing in a winter landscape and are carried into the clouds by a captive balloon.
After a journey through the air, Clara and the prince land in a fairyland. Dances from various countries of the world are presented to them. The Waltz of the Flowers is the climax of their journey into the world of fantasy.
The morning strike of the church tower bell interrupts the merry goings-on. The Kinderfräulein wakes up the deeply slumbering Clara. She wakes up from the most beautiful dream of her life ...