Arts & Entertainment: ‘Nutcracker’ takes many shapes during the holidays

Few traditions are as solidly placed on holiday calendars for families across America as the seasonal productions of “Nutcracker.” Local calendars are no different. Local “Nutcracker” nuts have four options this season to feed their annual habit that range from traditional to modern to a blend of both. The story follows Clara, who is guided by a magnificent angel on a journey into a magical dream, where anything is possible through the swirling land of snow with its elegant white tutus to the mysterious land of sweets, where she is enchanted by the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Cavalier and their fascinating guests. Tacoma City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” which runs Saturdays and Sundays, Dec. 8-23 at the Pantages Theater, is the most lavish and traditional of the bunch. TCB’s production, in concert with The Northwest Sinfonietta, presents the story of Clara and The Nutcracker in the tradition of the original Peter Tchaikovsky version first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, under the eyes of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The story, scenes and choreography are as classic as the stage allows and is marking its 15th anniversary in Tacoma.

“As much choreography as could be determined from historical records was also incorporated into this production,” TCB’s Leah Taff said. “Many Nutcrackers are performed in the tradition of San Francisco Ballet, which was the first company to bring the now-classic production to the United States. Because we were following the intentions of the original creation, all of our costumes were handmade, the scenery was painted to Petipa’s specifications and the set pieces and props were re-created from historical documents and Petipa’s original notes.” Directly behind TCB’s production on the traditionalist-omatic scale is Washington Contemporary Ballet’s show, which takes to the stage at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Mount Tahoma High School, while Dance Theatre Northwest takes a different spin on its “Nutcracker.” “We update our show each year to keep it fresh and exciting with some new choreography, costumes and sets,” said DTN’s Artistic Director Melanie Kirk-Stauffer. “The performance is always presented as a bedtime story with a story teller. Our show is also slightly abbreviated – a little bit shorter than the full length classic – especially suitable for children and families. We still have the Party Scene, Growing Christmas Tree, Snow Scene and Land of Sweets with Grand Pas De Deux and Finale.” Tacoma Performing Dance Company’s production features new choreography and staging by Artistic Director Jo Emery, Amity Howell-Sloboda and Jean Milano. Costume design is by Tracy McGowen and Emilie Stevens, sets are designed by Patti Graham.

In a nutshell

Tacoma City Ballet performs at 3 p.m. Dec. 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23 at the Pantages Theater. Tickets are $19-$60 and available through

Washington Contemporary Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” takes to the stage at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Mount Tahoma High School. Visit

Dance Theatre Northwest’s production runs at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Dec. 8, and at 4 p.m. Dec. 9 at Mount High School Auditorium. Tickets are $11-$26 and available at

Tacoma Performing Dance Company’s “The Nutcracker Ballet” will be performed at the Stadium High School Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. 7 p.m. Dec. 15 and at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Dec. 16. Tickets are $18-$22 and available at

Fun Facts

  • The music for the violin solo during the change of scenery in Act I is taken from another of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores, “The Sleeping Beauty.”

  • The music for the coffee dance is based on the melody of a Georgian lullaby.

  • The music of “The Nutcracker” debuted long before the ballet. In March 1892, Tchaikovsky conducted “The Nutcracker Suite” at the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. This suite became very popular and for a while was more admired than the ballet. The suite features “The Nutcracker’s” most famous sequences including the “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy,” “Russian Dance,” “Arabian Dance” and “Waltz of the Flowers.”

  • The score for “The Nutcracker” is not only Tchaikovsky’s most famous work but it is one of the more famous pieces in all of western music. Despite its popularity and renown, the score was not one of Tchaikovsky’s favorites. For one, he was given very specific directions to its composition and for him, the strict guidelines sucked out all the fun. Second, the maestro’s sister died shortly before he began working on the score – more than likely that had a negative effect on Tchaikovsky’s attitude towards the commission.

  • The audience protest at the 1913 premiere of “The Rite of Spring” was so loud that neither the dancers nor the audience could properly hear the music.

  • Towards the end of his life, Igor Stravinsky became especially fond of the game Scrabble.

  • Stravinsky was romantically linked to perfume and fashion icon Coco Chanel – a relationship that is explored in the 2009 film “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.”

  • Stravinsky once lived in a Swiss hotel, but would not compose there unless he was sure no one could hear him – which was rare. Later, a dealer set him up with a piano in a combination lumber storage-chicken coop. It was in this yard where he composed some of his most famous works.


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