Arts & Culture

Hungry for holiday festivities? Bite into local takes on the world’s best-known ballet

Courtesy of Ballet Northwest

“The Nutcracker,” about a young girl whose gift starts her on a holiday journey to magical realms, is astoundingly popular for a ballet — especially one that was no big hit when it debuted in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The number of productions of the Christmas classic “Nutcracker,” with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is just, well, nuts.

It seems as though every ballet company, including Olympia’s Ballet Northwest and Studio West, stages the story, which begins at a holiday party and travels to the Kingdom of Snow and the Land of the Sweets. And they stage it every holiday season, without fail, because no other ballet comes close to its name recognition and popularity with audiences.

And this year, it’s trendy, too. Walt Disney Co. has jumped on the bandwagon with the film “Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Though that fanciful take on the classic ballet has left reviewers as chilly as the weather this week (Rotten Tomatoes tally: 34 percent), its existence is a sure sign of the cultural significance of this ballet.

Locally, South Sound Dance’s holiday show gets a sprinkle of Nutcracker, too, meaning that those who are nutty for Clara and company can see up to three live variations on the theme in Olympia.

That’s aside from “Four Realms,” though it looks like that film might not be in theaters for long, and the holiday parade of versions available for streaming: Netflix has “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” and a 1993 film starring Macaulay Culkin as the Nutcracker Prince, and Amazon Prime members have access to the 1977 “Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker,” the 1986 “Nutcracker: The Motion Picture,” based on the Pacific Northwest Ballet production, and several animated takeoffs.

Let’s put it this way: You could fill at least 12 days of Christmas with “Nutcrackers.”

Here’s a bite-size guide to the local performances.

Ballet Northwest

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The Waltz of the Snowflakes concludes Act 1 of the Tchaikovsky ballet. Jerome Tso Courtesy of Ballet Northwest

Ballet Northwest’s 34th production of “The Nutcracker,” opening Friday, adds dancing French macaron cookies to the Land of the Sweets and gives the showy snow pas de deux to Clara (danced by Natalie Allenton, 14, of Olympia, a homeschooled sophomore, and Nina Ivanenko, 14, a freshman at River Ridge HIgh School in Lacey) and the Nutcracker Prince (Giovanny Garibay, 15, a sophomore at Pope John Paul II High School in Lacey).

This year’s “Nutcracker” will be the first Ballet Northwest one in which Clara and the Nutcracker Prince will do that challenging dance.

Ken Johnson, the company’s co-director, is excited about the Land of the Sweets and Kingdom of Snow sets by Jill Carter, which debuted last year. “I think they really brought the production up to another level,” he told The Olympian. “They are some of the most beautiful Nutcracker sets that I have seen.”

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The pas de deux of the Snow Queen in The Nutcracker. Jerome Tso Courtesy of Ballet Northwest

Also dancing lead roles are Elina Brein, 17, of Centralia, a junior at the Insight School of Washington, and Hannah Capper, 17, a senior at Gig Harbor High School, who’ll share the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. New York-based professionals Darwin Black and Sanford Placide will dance the Sugar Plum Cavalier.

The Nutcracker presented by Ballet Northwest performances are at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, 8, 14 and 15 and 2 p.m. Dec. 8, 9, 15 and 16 at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia. Tickets are $14-$35. Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org

Studio West Dance Theater

Studio West Dance Theater’s 10th annual production brings the holiday spirit off stage with elaborate decorations that extend the set from the theater space out into the lobby and a couple of pre-performance parties targeted at children 3 and older that include crafts and cupcakes.

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Dancers prepare to take the stage for the Waltz of the Snowflakes. Courtesy of Studio West Dance Theater

The company also is mixing things up on stage with one performance called “The Nutty-Cracker,” set for Thursday, Dec. 13. That performance will follow the same lines as the traditional production but add a few surprises. “There’ll be random quirky appearances by characters from other ballets,” Stephanie Wood-Ennett, the company’s co-director, told The Olympian. “It’s not the traditional production, that’s for sure.”

Dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy are Abigail Bunn, 15, a freshman at Tumwater High School, and Hannah Smith, 15, a sophomore at Olympia High School. Alexandra Bunn, 15, a freshman at Tumwater (and Abigail’s twin), and Emma Krug, 14, in eighth grade at Reeves Middle School in Olympia, will dance Clara.

Cole McMason, 17, a senior at Keystone Online School, will share the role of Cavalier with Joshua Grant, a soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the role of Nutcracker Prince with Reese Bergeson, 14, a freshman at Capital High School. He’s the first student dancer to take on the demanding Cavalier role in a Studio West production.

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The Chinese dancers perform for Clara in the Land of the Sweets. Courtesy of Studio West Dance Theater

The Nutcracker presented by Studio West Dance Theatre performances are at 5 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16, 6:30 p.m. Dec. 10, 7 p.m. Dec. 14 and 15, 2 p.m. Dec. 15, and 1 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Minnaert Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia. Tickets are $8.50-$26. Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org

The Nutty-Cracker presented by Studio West Dance Theatre will be performed at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Minnaert Center for the Arts at SPSCC. Tickets are $17-$26. Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org

Clara’s Nutcracker Party will be at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 and noon Dec. 16 at the Minnaert Center. Tickets are $12 at washingtoncenter.org

South Sound Dance

South Sound Dance is theming its holiday performances around the holiday fantasy, too. Its “Son of a Nutcracker” takes inspiration from both “Nutcracker” and the Will Ferrell movie “Elf.”

All of the school’s dancers participate in the performances, which fill up quickly with family and friends.

Son of a Nutcracker presented by South Sound Dance has performances at noon and 4 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Olympia High School Performing Arts Center, 1302 North St. SE, Olympia. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. The 4 p.m. show is already sold out. Information: 360-918-2171, southsounddance.com

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