One of the friends I made on my travels asked me how “The Nutcracker” should end. It’s not just a good question, it’s actually one of the two most troubling questions that this ballet prompts. Does the heroine, Clara or Marie (she has other names too), return to her parents? Was the ballet just her dream? Or do she and the Nutcracker Prince set off for yet another world — for his own land, which we never see?

If you attend to Tchaikovsky, the score implies that this second act should close as it started: perhaps it’s journeying music, perhaps it’s a distant view of the Sweets landscape. The 1892 premiere ended, most ambiguously of all, with a view of a hive with eight dancing bees: since bees make honey, they are agents of Sweetness, and the hive — as hymned by Virgil — is an image of a perfect state. The Sugar Plum Fairy, deep inside the hive, was the queen bee.

Nobody onstage has connected bees to “The Nutcracker” in a century.

Yes, I should really just leave the Nut in peace, but I had never read this before, so there you go!



  1. The Pacific Northwest Ballet version ends with Clara waking up in her own bed…

  2. Ours has her parents finding her asleep on the couch in the living room IIRC.