Among the annual Christmas traditions — the decorations, the gifts, the family, the dinner — none may be more elegant or magical than the classic ballet The Nutcracker.

Nov. 21, 2015 | A ballet dancer puts on her shoes while sitting on a stage behind the curtain before Nacho Duato's The Nutcracker at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

With a dazzling, unforgettable score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker transports its audience to a young girl's magical Christmas Eve dreamworld where toy soldiers come to life, a Mouse King terrorizes, and a handsome prince offers a glimpse of love. The performance taps into the indulgence of the season, with set designs that tower over ballerinas, costumes that are layered like tiered cakes, and confectionery places and characters — the Land of Sweets, the Sugar Plum Fairy — that could be plucked from the night-before-Christmas dreams of children the world over.

The Nutcracker debuted in 1892, in Moscow's Imperial Theatre a week before Christmas, but didn't travel to Western stages for another 50 years. By the time the ballet reached the United States, the tale had become a popular children's book. So when the New York City Ballet debuted the performance in 1954, The Nutcracker was on its way to becoming a Christmas staple. Today, the ballet remains one of the world's most beloved performances.

Below, travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, for a peek behind the curtain of the Mikhailovsky Theatre as choreographers, ballerinas, makeup artists, and costume designers busily prepare for last year's performance.

Nov. 18, 2015 | A ballet dancer leaps during a rehearsal of The Nutcracker choreographed by Nacho Duato (whose photo decorates the wall) at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Nov. 19, 2015 | Ballet dancer Mario Labrador stretches in a hallway. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Nov. 19, 2015 | A seamstress prepares a costume. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Nov. 20, 2015 | A ballet dancer watches from backstage during a rehearsal. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Nov. 20, 2015 | Principal dancer Ivan Zaytsev gets his makeup done before performing. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Nov. 20, 2015 | Anastasia Soboleva, first soloist, chooses her pointe shoes for practice. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Nov. 20, 2015 | Ballet dancers perform in Nacho Duato's The Nutcracker. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)

Nov. 20, 2015 | Ballet soloist Valeria Zapasnikova and principal dancer Leonid Sarafanov perform in Nacho Duato's The Nutcracker. | (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)