Clara in The Nutcracker Ballet

Clara or Marie. Photo © Tracy Wicklund

Question: Who is Clara in The Nutcracker Ballet?

Is Clara the name of the main character in the Nutcracker ballet? Some people refer to her as Marie. Is her name really Clara or Marie?

Answer: In most versions of the popular holiday ballet The Nutcracker, the young girl who falls asleep and dreams about a prince is named Clara. As the curtain opens, the wealthy Staulbahm family, including young children Clara and Fritz, is busily preparing for their annual Christmas Eve party.

Clara and Fritz are anxiously awaiting the arrival of several invited guests. The original story of The Nutcracker is based on a tale by E.T.A. Hoffman entitled "Der Nussnacker und der Mausekonig", or "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." In the story, Clara is not the Stahlbaum's cherished daughter but an unloved and neglected orphan. Somewhat like Cinderella, Clara is required to do chores in the household that usually go unappreciated.

In 1847, Alexandre Dumas rewrote Hoffman's story, removing some of its darker elements and changing the name of Clara. He chose to refer to Clara as "Marie." Because The Nutcracker Ballet developed from two versions of a single book, the lead role of the story is sometimes named "Clara" and sometimes "Marie." However, in most ballet versions of the story, the little girl who dreams of a living nutcracker is referred to as "Clara." Portraying the role of Clara in the Nutcracker is an aspiration of many young ballerinas.

Most ballet companies choose the role of Clara and other main characters during auditions several weeks before the performance.