Clara is the young heroine of the famous ballet "The Nutcracker", with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
. She is called Marie in choreographer George Balanchine's 1954 production of the ballet, Maria in the Bolshoi Ballet version, and Masha in other Russian productions of it. In some productions (including the famous Balanchine version staged by the New York City Ballet), she is a little girl about ten years old, and in other productions, such as the Baryshnikov one, she is a girl in her middle to late teens. The entire story of the ballet is seen through her eyes, and an aged Clara is even the offscreen narrator of the 1986 film "Nutcracker", otherwise known as "Nutcracker: The Motion Picture".
Clara receives the Nutcracker as a present from her godfather Drosselmeyer at a Christmas party. In most versions of the ballet, including the San Francisco version, her fantasy adventures with the Nutcracker are all a dream: at midnight the toys come to life and fight an army of invading mice; with Clara's help, the Nutcracker kills the Mouse King and is then transformed into a handsome prince, with whom, in some versions of the ballet, Clara falls instantly in love. (In some, such as the original 1892 production and the George Balanchine version, in which the couple is always played by two children, both about ten years old, they are simply very good friends.) The Prince had been under an evil spell placed upon him by the Mouse King, and only the love of a girl could break it. The Prince takes Clara to the Kingdom of Sweets in gratitude for breaking the curse placed upon him. Everyone there celebrates in her honor.
According to the book "Nutcracker Nation", in the original 1892 version of the ballet, Clara stayed on to rule the kingdom with the Prince, implying that the fantasy events really do take place, but in many versions of the ballet, she wakes up at the end of the celebration to find that it was all a dream and that the Nutcracker is still a nutcracker; however, she is still happy that she had the dream.
Sometimes in productions of the ballet, Clara actually marries the Prince, as in E.T.A. Hoffmann's original story on which the ballet is based. In Baryshnikov's 1977 version, the ending is melancholy, with the fairy tale characters (including the Prince), fading away, and Clara returning to reality, finding herself back at home, and gazing out the window at the falling snow.
In Yuri Grigorovich's production for the Bolshoi Ballet, Maria (as she is called here) is given a bridal veil during the Final Waltz and presumably marries the Prince, but she then wakes up to find that it was all a dream.
In choreographer Peter Wright's version for the Royal Ballet, videotaped in 1985 and 2001, and streamed to movie theatres in 2009, the Nutcracker is not only really a prince, but also Drosselmeyer's nephew, as in Hoffmann's story. At the end of the 2001 and 2009 versions of this production, Clara and the nephew not only meet again in reality, but she discovers that, although awake, she is still wearing the locket that the Sugar Plum Fairy gave her; therefore Clara did not dream the events.
In the 1990 animated film "The Nutcracker Prince", which is closer to Hoffmann's story than other animated versions (but not by much), Clara and Drosselmeyer's nephew Hans meet for the first time in the old man's toy shop, and she recognizes him as the young man who was once her Nutcracker. It is assumed that they will live happily ever after.
In the animated "Barbie in the Nutcracker", the story bears little relation to either Hoffmann's tale or the ballet. At the end Clara learns that she is really the Sugar Plum Princess, and though her adventures seem to have been just a dream, her aunt then brings home a guest for Christmas dinner - it is the Nutcracker Prince.
In Mikhail Shemiakin's revisionist production of the Tchaikovsky ballet for the Mariinsky Theatre in which the fantasy events are not a dream, Masha (as she is here called) and the Prince celebrate their impending wedding with a dance, but in the finale, we see that the couple has paid a rather gruesome price for marrying: they have been reduced in size, presumably baked, and turned into sugar-coated dolls atop a giant wedding cake, by the same rats that earlier attacked the toys (the Rat King, or as he is known in most productions of the ballet, the Mouse King, does not actually die in this version). The rats begin to eat the cake, and it is implied that they will ultimately eat Masha and the Prince as well.
In the Maurice Bejart version of "The Nutcracker", neither Clara nor any of the original characters appear at all, and Bejart invents a completely new, rather lurid storyline for the ballet, involving a main character with an Oedipus complex.
In Matthew Bourne's version of the ballet, half of the story, which is full of sexual innuendo in this production, takes place in a Dickensian-like orphanage. The Nutcracker turns into a beefy muscle man in this production, not a Prince, apparently abandoning Clara and marrying the conniving Sugar Plum Fairy. But in a surprise ending, this turns out not to be the case.
In the completely revisionist "Nutcracker: The Story of Clara", Clara is an aged ballerina living in a retirement community who recalls her past life in flashback, and dies at the end.