Matthew Alice: ETA Hoffmann, from whose story of the Nutcracker the popular ballet story is taken, called his central character Marie, I believe, but the ballerina is called Clara. Why and when was the name changed? Mary Krimmel, La Jolla
A ballet faithful to Hoffmann’s complex and macabre art fairy tale would send.the kiddies screaming from the theater. (The evil Mouse King has seven heads; he sits on Marie’s shoulder, hisses, grinds his teeth, and oozes bloody froth from all seven mouths...) Alexandre Dumas (pere) wrote a French adaptation of the 1816 German original, omitting some of Hoffmann’s grotesqueries but retaining the name Marie. The ballet, based on Dumas, was commissioned by the director of the Russian Imperial Theaters, who further sanitized the story into the confection we know today. Details of the original 1892 production are murky. But choreographer’s notes call the girl Clara, so the change was made very early on. In Hoffmann’s tale, Clara was Marie’s doll, who overcame a jealous snit and saved the Nutcracker from a fall off a shelf where he rested after Marie’s brother knocked out his teeth and broke his jaw.
Why the change? Whim, artistic license, personal taste, no one seems to know. Virtually no two productions of the Nutcracker, are the same, either in story line, choreography, setting, or subtext. In some, Clara is Marie, Maria, or Maria. In some English-language storybook versions, she’s Mary. Entire volumes are devoted to the history of Nutcracker adaptations. Though, personally, E.T.A. rules.