Clara and her Nutcracker — Photo courtesy of gabrielsaldana
Families gather for a Christmas party at a friend's elegant, stately home. Drinks are served, children's party games ensue, the tree is lit and a well-loved relative brings a gift to the little girl of the house. Sound pretty normal? It is, up to that point in the Nutcracker story. Then is when the magical mystery starts to unfold, as a child's dream becomes the backdrop for the rest of the ballet.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker — Photo courtesy of Angela Sterling
If you've never been to a ballet, this is a great one to start with, as the story is pretty easy to follow and, being family friendly, it's accessible to all ages, plus has the added Christmas element to get you in the holiday mood. Very young ones might be a little taken aback by the battle scene, where the music reaches a louder crescendo, pyrotechnics are sometimes used and a canon seems to truly blast onstage.
Many cities in the U.S. are fortunate enough to bring this beloved ballet to audiences in collaboration with their local symphony, live music always adding more excitement and energy to the production. The first Nutcracker in this country was performed by San Francisco Ballet in 1944 and they are one of the top tier companies still performing it to this day (at War Memorial Opera House, Dec. 11-28 in San Francisco).
The famous Fir Forest snow scene from the Nutcracker — Photo courtesy of PacificNorthwestBallet
Another long-running Nutcracker presenter since 1954, the New York City Ballet gives 47 performances each year - a cast of 90 dancers, including two different casts of 50 students from the company's school, School of American Ballet. This lavish production features a tree that magically grows from 12 feet to 40 feet. It is no wonder 32 stagehands are on deck. Shows run Nov. 29-Jan. 4 at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Thanks in large part to New York City Ballet alumni, quality companies have sprung up across the country, all serving up this holiday treat. The Miami City Ballet, due to its director's connection to New York City Ballet, performs the George Balanchine version of the Nutcracker in their city (Balanchine was the founder of New York City Ballet). Performances run Dec. 19-Jan. 5 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, Florida.
Ballet West, in Salt Lake City, Utah, celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, produces company founder and New York City Ballet alum, William Christensen's production, Dec. 6-30 at the newly renovated Capitol Theatre in downtown Salt Lake.
Mother Ginger in The Nutcracker — Photo courtesy of mmahaffe
Ballet Austin, who recently moved into their gorgeous new downtown space, gets their citizens involved in voting for a local celebrity (and non-dancer) to take the stage in the humorous role of Mother Ginger (normally performed by a man in drag, who has to walk on stilts). What a fun way to sell tickets! Accompanied by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, performances run Dec. 7-23 at the Long Center.
Atlanta Ballet came up with incorporating a television celebrity into their Nutcracker. Professional illusionist and America's Got Talent finalist Drew Thomas is taking on the role of Drosselmeyer, the mysterious uncle who concocts all kinds of surprises from mechanical dolls to magical candy canes in the opening party scene. Accompanied by Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, shows run Dec. 6-29 at the Fox Theatre.
The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier - Kaori Takai and Jack Stewart — Photo courtesy of Kathee Miller
Being the "bread and butter" for most companies, The Nutcracker has many troupes on the road this time of year, so check your local listings for possible productions near you. Create your new holiday tradition and see why many audience goers still have Sugar Plums dancing in their heads long after the curtain has come down.