The Rodent Royalty of Nutcracker

What’s a fairy tale without a bad guy? In Nutcracker, the King of the Mice fills that role, with just enough menace to keep it interesting, and just enough style (and humor) that he’s not completely unsympathetic.

In E.T.A. Hoffman’s story “Nutcracker and Mouse King,” the seven-headed Mouse King is the son of Madam Mouserink, who herself has an extensive backstory. The ballet is based on (less scary) adaptation of Hoffman’s story by Alexander Dumas.

San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker has featured several stylings of Mice Kings since the 1944 premiere. The only image that remains of the original Mouse King, created at the end of WWII, is Russell Hartley’s costume sketch.

Mouse King costume design for San Francisco Ballet's 1944 Nutcracker, designed by Russel Hartley // Courtesy of SF Museum of Performance + Design
Mouse King costume design for San Francisco Ballet's 1944 Nutcracker, designed by Russel Hartley // Courtesy of SF Museum of Performance + Design

San Francisco Ballet’s 1954 production of Nutcracker was designed by children’s book illustrator Leonard Weisgard, and the mice are correspondingly cuter and more benign in the design sketches, but remain quote warlike in the promotional image.

Costume Sketch for San Francisco Ballet's 1954 production of The Nutcracker by Leonard Weisgard // Courtesy of SF Museum of Performance + Design
Mice and Toy Soldiers in Lew Christensen's 1954 Nutcracker // © San Francisco Ballet. Photo courtesy SF Museum of Performance + Design

The 1967 Nutcracker, designed by Robert O’Hearn, gave the Mouse King military medals and a sash, pointy ears, and the girth of a seasoned general.

Michael Smuin with San Francisco Ballet dancers in costume as the Mouse King and Mouse subject from Lew Christensen's "Nutcracker", circa 1979 // © Kaz Tsuruta. Courtesy of the Museum of Performance + Design

The 1986 Nutcracker, with designs by Jose Varona, cast the Mouse King as more of an outlaw, with the eye patch of a pirate and boots that curled at the toe.

The Mouse King in San Francisco Ballet's 1986 Nutcracker
The Mouse King in San Francisco Ballet's 1986 Nutcracker

San Francisco Ballet’s current production, with costumes designed by Martin Pakledinaz, features a stylish King of the Mice, complete with purple jacket with (faux) ermine trim, furry legs, and very large teeth.

John-Paul Simoens in Tomasson's Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson
John-Paul Simoens in Tomasson's Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

Header image: SF Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

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