Last year, the Joffrey Ballet premiered a brand-new Nutcracker, retiring Robert Joffrey's original production. It was a big deal—it cost $4 million to create, and celebrated choreographer Christopher Wheeldon was at the helm. Now, a year later—and just in time for the holidays, so you can get your Nutcracker fix from in front of your laptop—WTTW, Chicago's public-media organization, has debuted a documentary about the making of the ballet.
This is seriously fascinating stuff, all packed into an hour—we highly recommend you watch. Here are five of our favorite moments from the documentary:
Debbie Allen's The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker (2010) fuses ballet with tap, flamenco, hip hop and gymnastics in fantastical settings such as Candy Cane Land, Jazzland and the Land of the Kimono Dolls.
The Hip Hop Nutcracker (2014) is set in New York City and juxtaposes Tchaikovsky's classical score with hip-hop choreography created by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of Brooklyn-based hip-hop troupe Decadancetheatre.
Mark Morris' The Hard Nut(1991) turns the holiday classic on its head with party dances that include the hokey pokey and the bump, G.I. Joes leading the charge in the battle scene and nontraditional gender casting.
Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! (1992) sees the heroine, Clara, travel from a miserable orphanage to the zany Sweetieland, where she has to fight her obnoxious rival Sugar for the affections of the Nutcracker prince.
For many dancers, performing in some version of The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition—albeit an inescapable, monthlong one that can quickly grow tedious. But for Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Noelani Pantastico, it's a welcome return to her roots. After an 11-year career with PNB, where she annually performed Kent Stowell and Maurice Sendak's fantastical adaptation, she left to join Les Ballets de Monte Carlo—a company with no classical Nutcracker. "I did miss it," she admits. When she returned to PNB last fall, seven years later, the company had just traded the Stowell/Sendak production for George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Pantastico was pleasantly surprised to discover her muscle memory kicked in—from her training days at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, which also performs the Balanchine version. "I remembered things from when I was a teenager," she says. "I was coached by Darla Hoover, and it's ingrained in the body." At the end of last month, Pantastico began her PNB Nutcracker run, alternating among leading roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy, Dewdrop and Marzipan.
The holidays are here and in the dance world, that typically means one thing: Nutcracker season! As a former bunhead, I’d be remiss not to give a shout-out to some of the Nutcracker productions we all know and love.
Houston Ballet's Jared Matthews and Karina Gonzalez dance the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux.
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George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker(1954) Where to see it: New York City Ballet; Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle; Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadelphia.
Kent Stowell’s Nutcracker(1983) Where to see it: PNB retired the production last year, but you can catch it on DVD via Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, filmed in 2011.
Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker(1987) Where to see it: Houston Ballet, Houston, Texas (Catch it now because HB is retiring the production after this year. Artistic director Stanton Welch will present a new version in 2016.)
Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut(1991) Where to see it: Mark Morris Dance Group, Brooklyn, NY.
Helgi Tomasson’s Nutcracker(2004) Where to see it: San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco.
Debbie Allen’s The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker(2010) Where to see it: Debbie Allen Dance Academy, Los Angeles.
Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker(2010) Where to see it: American Ballet Theatre, Costa Mesa, California.
Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker(2012) Where to see it: Boston Ballet, Boston.
Gelsey Kirkland’s The Nutcracker(2013) Where to see it: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet, Brooklyn, NY.
The snow scene from Alexei Ratmansky's The Nutcracker
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The music is iconic—Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like Tschaikovsky’s score.
It’s joyful—In most versions, the unhappiest thing that happens is Clara’s nutcracker getting broken (only temporarily) by her pesky brother Fritz. Not too bad if you ask me!
It’s the perfect blend of narrative and non-narrative ballet—The first act’s party and fight scenes are ballet acting at its finest. The second act’s Land of Sweets offers a buffet of dance delicacies.
It’s a time-honored holiday tradition—If you haven’t danced in it, it’s likely you’ve seen it. Each year, thousands of people attend the show, bringing in roughly 40 percent of ballet companies’ annual revenue.
There’s something in it for everyone—From the humorous antics of the opening party scene to the action-packed fight scene that follows, to the technical feats of the Sugar Plum Fairy, it’s a show everyone can enjoy.
Photos (from top): by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet; by Gene Shiavone, courtesy of American Ballet Theatre