“The Nutcracker” is a beloved, classic ballet, but if you’ve seen one performance, you have not seen them all. Nearly every version has references to the century-old original, but each company that presents the Christmas-themed work puts their own spin on it.
Classic Nutcrackers, Russian-Made
“The Nutcracker” premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Dec. 17, 1892. The choreographer Marius Petipa based the dramatic arch on Alexandre Dumas, Sr.’s story (itself based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s) about a young girl and the magical gift she receives from her mysterious uncle. Nutcracker productions today are much more loyal to the original music by Tchaikovsky than the choreographer’s steps. Tchaikovsky, who also composed “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” wrote what is possibly his most popular score for “The Nutcracker” — full of hum-a-long, cheerful melodies.
American Ballet Theater’s “The Nutcracker” by Alexei Ratmansky
BAM, Dec. 14 – Dec. 31
Performed with a live orchestra and sets and costumes by Tony Award-winner Richard Hudson (“The Lion King“), this production of “The Nutcracker” was created by Alexei Ratmansky in 2010. Born and trained in St. Petersburg, Ratmansky was the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet from 2004 – 2009 and then joined American Ballet Theatre as its first ever artist-in-residence. This high-end production has a fun preview online that include a synopsis, images and information about collaborating artists.
The legendary founding choreographer of the New York City Ballet grew up in Russia and at the age of 15, danced the role of the Prince in “The Nutcracker” in 1919. His own “Nutcracker” debut in New York City was in 1954, creating what would become an annual holiday tradition. The company’s principals rotate the famous roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Cavalier (Prince), Dewdrop and others regularly. You can check who’s dancing what, when, here.
The Nutcracker Takes a Bite of New York
In Act II, the diverstissement of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece includes melodic odes to faraway lands (Spain, Arabia, China). The following New York City productions go so far as to claim it as its own, including backdrops of famous New York City landmarks in its fanciful tale.
Choreographed by Manhattan Youth Ballet Artistic Advisor Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet), and Nick Kepley (who performs on Broadway in Mary Poppins), this production takes several creative liberties. For one, the characters “Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles,” are played by the Statue of Liberty and newly arrived immigrants from Ellis Island. The Nutcracker scene “The Land of the Snow” is represented by a snowy frenzy of shoppers dancing in and out of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s for holiday gifts, while “The Land of Sweets” is accompanied by street vendors and roasted chestnuts.
WATCH VIDEO:This year the Urban Ballet Theater’s “Nutcracker in the Lower” is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Video courtesy of YouTube.
Choreographer Francis Patrelle uses lavish stage design and costumes to set her company’s “Nutcracker” within New York landmarks circa 1895, including a holiday party at Gracie Mansion, dancing at the Crystal Palace in the New York Botanical Garden and skating in Central Park. Dancers from ages 5 to 65 include New York City Ballet principals Abi Stafford and Jared Angle as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier.
Nutcrackers in the Outer Boroughs (and Your Living Room)
Staten Island and Brooklyn residents don’t have to travel far to see the fine art of ballet. Note that the American Ballet Theater production (above) is performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music. WNET/Thirteen (MetroFocus’ parent company) will premiere the New York City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” on Live from Lincoln Center on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. with two repeat broadcasts later in the week.
This holiday production at the newly renovated, hallowed St. George Theatre includes a “Nutcracker” excerpt among its holiday musical numbers. BALAM Dance Theatre principal ballerina Robin Gilbert and artistic director Carlos Fittante perform the Grand Pas de Deux from the ballet.
Created especially for families with children aged 4 to 10, “The Colonial Nutcracker” takes place in wintry colonial Yorktown during the Revolutionary War. Rose Menes’ choreography still features the favorite sections such as “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Waltz of the Snowflakes.” This is the most affordable Nutcracker production, with tickets only $7.
The Staten Island Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” with a magically expanding Christmas tree, more than 30 professional company dancers (some are guest artists on leave from other prominent companies, including American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Ballet Hispanico) and 50 students of the Staten Island Ballet School. Staten Island Ballet (SIB) is a resident dance company at CUNY’s Center for the Arts.
Kozlova was a principal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet and went on to found her own dance conservatory in New York in 2003. Her technically and lyrically talented student dancers embody the traditional Nutcracker characters, but this version gives Uncle Drosselmeyer an unconventional twist.
Urban Ballet Theater Artistic Director Daniel Catanach has re-imagined his Nutcracker in each of its 10 years of performances, but the production has always been set in the Lower East Side. New elements in 2011 are local landmarks such as recycled artwork sculpture gardens, the Grand Street subway station and the Williamsburg Bridge. In the Abrons Art Center’s lobby, pre-show and intermission videos play scenes from the character Clara’s family life. While many elements of the classic ballet remain, this version casts various ethnic groups of New York as the main characters. The party scene, traditionally depicted as an opulent 19th-century ball, becomes a holiday salsa fiesta on the Lower East Side.
For a full listing of “Nutcrackers” in New York, see NYC-ARTS.org.