The holidays have become the traditional time for productions of the Nutcracker. The ballet, through Tchaikovsky’s evocative score, depicts a child’s inner life and imagination—a world transformed by dancing snowflakes and exotic lands of sweets and fantasy. What better time to indulge a bit of fantasy? Here are two, not-to-miss stagings, from the classic to modern interpretations.
New York: New York City Ballet (above, through January 3). George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is in most ways the granddaddy of all Nutcrackers. Balanchine, the ballet master and choreographer who established a new style of American ballet and the repertoire to go with it, created in 1954 a version of the Nutcracker for his New York City Ballet company that has links to the ballet’s origins in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Christmas tree magically grows to fill the stage, mice and toy soldiers face off in battle, a Sugarplum fairy presides in a land of sweets—dreamlike visions of a child’s imagination. The beautiful production has a timeless quality at the heart of which remains Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. NYCB has the resources to perform it with a full orchestra.
Seattle: Pacific Northwest Ballet (through December 30). For their production of the Nutcracker, choreographer Kent Stowell and children book’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak (renowned of late because of the film Where the Wild Things Are) returned to the original source of the ballet, E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The resulting Stowell-Sendak collaboration premiered in 1983 and became, in part because of Sendak’s stage and costume designs, a new classic. His fantastical imagination offers a new guise to a magic kingdom over which a Grand Pasha presides: Moorish dancers, a peacock in a golden cage, a vivid Chinese tiger with attendants, and whirling dervishes.
Mario R. Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure.