Dance of the Sugar Fairy

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Postcard with Olga Iossifovna Preobrazhenskaya as Sugar Fairy and Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche ( Prince Whooping Cough )
Natalie Böck as a modern sugar fairy

The Dance of the Sugar Fairy is a world-famous piece from the ballet The Nutcracker (op. 71, there No. 14, Var. 2) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky , which was premiered on December 18, 1892. It sounds towards the end of the second act , a divertissement , and is conceived as the solo part of a pas de deux . The melody is mainly intoned by a celesta , an instrument that only became known to a wider audience through this dance. The Sugar Fairy Dance is also part of the Nutcracker Suite concert suite (op. 71a, there No. 3), which appeared before the ballet and, in contrast to the ballet, was an immediate success for Tchaikovsky.


Originally, the roles of Clara, the girl who dreams the story of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King on Christmas night, and the Sugar Fairy were separated from each other in the ballet. It was not until Alexander Alexeyevich Gorsky's production with the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet in 1919 that the roles were combined, as were those of the nutcracker and the prince. In addition, since then, adults have usually danced the parts instead of young ballet students. The first sugar fairy of the world premiere in 1892 in St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater was the Italian dancer Antonietta Dell'Era , who belonged to the company of the Berlin Royal Court Opera and has made several guest appearances in Russia. She complained that the Sugar Fairy's appearance was too short and in later performances she managed to expand it with an additional dance, a gavotte , which did not come from Tchaikovsky, but from the composer Alfons Czibulka . The dance of the sugar fairy initially gave new young dancers the opportunity to demonstrate their learned art, pirouettes, pointed dance and their personality to the audience. That was especially the case in Russia. In America, however, the Sugar Plum Fairy soon became an archetype of the classic ballerina. For a long time she was the only figure in a short tutu and thus served to promote young talent for ballet. At the end of the 20th century, this attitude was initially out of date in the USA and its role was questioned above all by feminist authors with regard to the physicality of the ballerinas and the dominance of the mostly male ballet directors and their ideas.

Content integration

Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker is based on the plot of ETA Hoffmann's fairy tale Nutcracker and Mouse King , but in the revisions by Alexandre Dumas and the librettist Marius Petipa . Tchaikovsky's work thus contains both German and French elements. The dance of the sugar fairy is embedded in the scenes at the magic castle of Zuckerburg . The atmosphere here is influenced by French, so the sugar fairy is called La Fée Dragée , the Prince Prince Coqueluche ( Prince whooping cough , after childhood illness ) and the other people also have French names. A festival is held at the castle, celebrating the victory of the nutcracker army, consisting of tin soldiers, over the troops of the Mouse King. Dances from different countries are performed. Then, in Clara's dream, the nutcracker appears as the prince and Clara as the sugar fairy, dancing a long pas de deux . This is interrupted by the two solos of the prince's tarantella and the sugar fairy's dance .

Musical structure

The dance of the sugar fairy is referred to in the score as Variation II. Pour la Danseuse , i.e. as a solo dance. Immediately before this dance, the ballet performs the variation I. Pour le Danseur . This is a quick tarantella that Prince Coqueluche from the story also dances solo. For the Sugar Fairy, however, Tchaikovsky initially plans the slower tempo Andante non troppo . Towards the end of the piece, however, a presto is required which, in traditional choreographies, allows the dancer the sugar fairy to dance whirling turns. In the Nutcracker Suite, however, this Presto is missing. In contrast to other comparable dances that are composed in ¾ or ⅜ time, the sugar fairy has an even time signature with its ² / ₄ time . The key is E minor throughout .

The piece begins with four bars, which the strings play plucked before the celesta begins with the sixteen bar first theme . After a transition that also lasts 16 bars, which ends in fast runs played fortissimo, the familiar theme of the celesta sounds an octave higher again. The second theme, as the following Presto, extends over 32 bars.

In most cases, the dancer's costume is based on the simple children's toy character of the literary figures. Instead of the usual ballet dress with a skirt that covers the knee, the sugar fairy wears a dress (tutu) that is reminiscent of a circular protruding disc so that the legs are completely visible.


The piece is characterized by the celesta , a steel plate piano with hammer action and a sound reminiscent of a glockenspiel. In this piece she uses Tchaikovsky as a solo melodic instrument that is accompanied by the orchestra. The composer wrote that this instrument was a combination "between a small piano and a glockenspiel, with a tone of divine beauty". The dance of the sugar fairy is one of the first compositions to use this instrument as part of the orchestra and is still the most famous piece of the classical repertoire for celesta today. In the event that such an instrument is not available, Tchaikovsky also allows the celesta solo to be interpreted on the piano.

The instrumentation of the accompanying orchestra also includes three large flutes , two oboes , English horn , two clarinets in A, one bass clarinet in Bb and two bassoons as woodwind instruments . Tchaikovsky demands four horns in F on brass instruments. The strings are extremely reduced in size to four first and second violins , four violas , four cellos and two double basses . In addition to the celesta, the bass clarinet plays an important solo role, because it complements the bell-clear melody voice with the deep descending tone sequence of a fifth , which sounds as a follow-up after each part of the melody. The other brass players (trumpets, trombones and tuba), the harps and the percussion stop .

the arpeggios of the celesta characteristic of the instrumentation of the dance


The great popularity of the piece can be seen in numerous arrangements and transcriptions for a wide variety of instruments.

  • In a sequence from the Disney cartoon Fantasia from 1940, the music appears to accompany a fairy dance.
  • The Danse de la fée dragée was used in German-speaking countries, for example, on fairytale records from the Europa label . It can be found in the setting of the fairy tale The Princess on the Pea or The Flying Suitcase by Hans Christian Andersen in a recording from the long-playing record Tchaikovsky - ballet music by the North German Symphony Orchestra Hamburg, conducted by Wilhelm Schüchter .
  • The album That's Christmas To Me by the American a cappella group Pentatonix contains the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy .
  • The Christmas album Oi to the World! from 1996 the punk rock band The Vandals also contains an adaptation of the sugar fairy in the song Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies

Publications (selection)


Compact Discs:

Web link

Individual evidence

  1. ^ History of the Celesta in the Vienna Symphonic Library.
  2. ^ Sugar Plum Fairy Exposé: Dissolving The Sugar Coating on
  3. Jennifer Fisher: Nutcracker Nation (English). Yale University Press 2004, ISBN 0-300-09746-8 , pp. 146 f.
  4. Gisela Sonnenburg: Border Crosser of Winter Worlds. In: Ballet Journal. December 26, 2015 on the occasion of the Nutcracker production in the Deutsche Oper, Berlin.
  5. ^ Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker. Score of the ballet. P. Jurgenson, Moscow 1892. pp. 451 ff.
  6. Wolfram Goertz: Nutcracker Music: The Sugar Fairy in Rush. In: The time. November 25, 2010.
  7. ^ Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker . Score of the ballet. P. Jurgenson, Moscow 1892. pp. 451 ff.
  8. YouTube video with the sequence Dance of the sugar plum fairy from Fantasia
  9. ^ Dance of the Sugar Fairy (Tchaikovsky). On
  10. Treasure chest of the most beautiful fairy tales. On
  11. official video
  12. ^ Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies, YouTube video