Many fondly remember their first live performance of The Nutcracker ballet, and can likely recall what year it was, who they were with, and where they saw it. Something as wonderful as this can leave such an impactful, lasting impression. Luckily, there are performances throughout the Lone Star State this time of year; creating an everlasting memory with the treat of a timeless, classical ballet has never been easier.
What is it exactly that makes the experience so memorable? For those unfamiliar with the time-tested story, The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet that evolved from an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s novella, The Nutcracker and The Mouse King, written in 1816. A young girl is heartbroken when her brother breaks a wooden nutcracker Christmas gift made by her godfather. That night, the girl witnesses the toys, including her beloved nutcracker, grow and magically come to life. Then, a battle ensues between soldiers and mice, with the nutcracker and Mouse King appearing to lead their respective troops. When the young girl saves her nutcracker soldier from being defeated by the Mouse King, he is transformed into a thankful handsome prince, who leads her to his kingdom in The Land of Sweets.
Back in his homeland, the Sugar Plum Fairy, who reigned over the kingdom in the prince’s absence, learns how he was saved by the girl. A celebration begins with displays of appreciation for her heroism in the form of dances by different types of sweets from around the globe and ends with a waltz by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier. The prince and the girl are then big farewell, and the girl later awakens back at home under the Christmas tree, holding the wooden nutcracker.
The Art of Ballet
While the story itself is magic, it is often the music that makes it so truly unforgettable. Even for those who have never heard the story, composer Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s compositions accompanying this ballet are instantly recognizable to just about everyone, many of them having been incorporated into countless commercials, cartoons, and movies over the years.
Though the music remains consistent from one production to another, and the story itself may vary only slightly, it is truly the brilliance of the choreographer, the spectacular venues, larger than life sets, elaborate costumes, and experienced dancers’ simultaneous display of strength and grace that give each production a unique mesmerizing life of its own. It is a magical combination of them all that is certain to solidify this experience as a fond memory for all those who witness to cherish for a lifetime.
Company: Ballet Austin
Venue: Long Center for the Performing Arts
Dates: 14 shows run from December 8 to 23
Artistic Director/Choreographer: Stephen Mills
This year marks Ballet Austin’s 56th presentation of The Nutcracker, making it the longest-running production of the infamous holiday classic in the State of Texas. The Austin Symphony Orchestra will do their part in upholding the city’s reputation as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” providing live accompaniment to artistic director and choreographer Steven Mills’s interpretation, which he has been perfecting for Ballet Austin since 1999. Hundreds of dancers, including professionals from Austin Ballet combined with students from Ballet Austin Academy, will perform all fourteen shows at Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts. Since 1997, local celebrities such as Govenor Ann Richards, Michael Dell, and Kinky Friedman have been invited to get on stage and in character, filling the role of Mother Ginger. Purchase tickets now to this experienced presentation and to discover which VIP will appear in that night’s performance.
Company: Texas Ballet Theater
Dallas Venue: Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center
Dates: 8 shows running from November 23 to December 2
Fort Worth Venue: Bass Performance Hall
Dates: 19 shows run from December 7 to 24
Artistic Director/Choreographer: Ben Stevenson
North Texas is in for a grand holiday treat this year, as internationally renowned artistic director/choreographer Ben Stevenson’s production premieres first at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s stunning Winspear Opera House in Dallas before moving to the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, with the last performance on Christmas Eve. Forty professional Texas Ballet Theater (TBT) dancers have the challenge of playing five to six various roles each. According to their press release, these dancers “rehearse up to six hours per day in preparation for this annual production.” The performers are not alone in their demanding, even grueling, schedules. “The wardrobe department stays busy preparing too…they can spend 200 to 300 hours to stich one tutu.” The cost of putting on a performance like this is astronomical. It takes an impressive “400,000 watts of electricity for each performance, a $20,000 cost for the Snow Queen’s and Sugar Plum Fairy’s tutus, 200 costumes in the production, 50 pounds of dry ice per performance, 45 stagehands, seventeen loads of laundry after each performance, five crew members required to make the Angel, Swan, and Carpet magically fly, four snow machines on the rooftop, and three pairs of shoes per dancer used each week of performances.”
From the extravagant set, effects, props, and costumes, it goes without saying that spectators can expect to be wowed and amazed by every meticulously crafted detail.
Company: Houston Ballet
Venue: Wortham Theater Center
Dates: 34 shows run from November 23 to December 29
Artistic Director/Choreographer: Stanton Welch
Even for those who have made attending the show in the Bayou City a yearly tradition for the past three decades, they are still in for a treat this year. After 29 years, Houston Ballet retired Ben Stevenson’s adaptation in 2016, a production viewed by over one million attendees. Since then, audience members have been delighted by Houston Ballet’s presentation of artistic director/choreographer Stanton Welch’s rendition. The downtown Art District’s Wortham Theater Center will continue to serve as the home for the yearly production, providing the ideal ambiance for elaborate custom costumes designed by acclaimed British designer and three-time Laurence Olivier Award-winner, Tim Goodchild.
Whether residing in a big city or coming in for some holiday shopping, do not miss this opportunity to take in the magic of one of these major productions. Alternately, check with local dance academies to find out when there will be a local presentation of The Nutcracker. While the ballet is quite the stuff of dreams, create exciting memories and see the Sugar Plum Fairy dance live on stage this season!