Nutcracker Memories

When it comes to Nutcracker, I feel like dancers, critics and dancegoers fall into one of two camps: You either love or loathe it.

I fall into the first category. I’m a sucker for most things holiday-related: twinkly lights draped all over the city, old-school Christmas carols playing at home, a pine tree in the corner of my living room—even freakin’ gingerbread lattes!

Given that, it’s probably no surprise that I love the Nutcracker, too. I’ll admit that I usually wish I could fast-forward through the party scene and skip to “Snow” and the pas de deux. And the embarrassingly outdated, stereotypical Land of Sweets characters make me cringe. But over the years, the Nutcracker has remained one of my most enduring holiday traditions. Over the past 31 years, no matter where I’ve been, or what was happening in my life, I’ve always been able to count on the familiarity and nostalgia of the Nutcracker, every Christmas season.

Like many kids, one of my earliest ballet memories was seeing City Ballet’s Nutcracker. I remember being amazed watching the tree grow, and seeing the Mouse King with his many heads.

In years following, my mom also took me to New York Theatre Ballet‘s one-hour production for kids, and the Harlem Nutcracker.

As a college student, a group of friends and I saw Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker. A couple years later, while working at the Boston Herald and doing some dance writing, I had the opportunity to review Jose Mateo‘s Nutcracker. That same season, I watched Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker again—and thought their “Snow” choreography was the best I’d ever seen. (One reason I’d love to revisit that production.)

Boston Ballet's Nutcracker

When I moved back to NYC in fall 2006, one of my “welcome home” gifts to myself was City Ballet Nutcracker tickets.

Since then, I’ve switched it up by seeing ABT’s Nutcracker on two different years—and really enjoyed Ratmansky’s fresh take on the ballet. (Like how Clara and her Nutcracker prince mirror Sugarplum and her cavalier, as they dance together in the snowy end of Act 1.)

ABT's Nutcracker

And with my own return to ballet, I’ve had the chance to perform “Snow” and “Flowers” during the last two Novembers. (We did both pieces in soft shoes, though I’d still love to dance them en pointe…)

waltz of the flowers

Last December, when I was in London, my parents surprised my best friend and me with tickets to see the Royal Ballet‘s Nutcracker. That evening at the Opera House was a big highlight of my quick trip.

royal opera house

Tonight, Evan and I are seeing City Ballet’s production. As a New Yorker, I’m a bit biased—Balanchine’s version has always remained my favorite.

NYCB Nutcracker

I was also surprised to learn that Evan has his own Nutcracker memories, about the same production. When he was a kid, his mom used to take him suit shopping, then to Houlihan’s for lunch, and then to City Ballet’s Nutcracker.

I’m excited to keep my—our—tradition going.

…now if only someone would please update the Land of Sweets! 😉

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12 comments

  1. The Nutcracker is seriously my favourite ballet ever. I remember watching a VHS recording of the one with Mikhail Barishnikov and Gelsey Kirkland and I was enchanted. I only got to see it live once, performed by the Atlanta ballet. while it was different, and i was a little offput by a few things, it was still just as magical…even down to the theatre where it was held (the ceiling was dark and they had tiny little lights that twinkled like stars, so it was like staring up at the night sky). I’ll have to see if they have something around my area, because I really want to see it again live!

  2. As an ex-ballerina myself, my mother took me to see the Nutcracker when I was 4 or 5 with a friend from the dance school and her mother. I was so small I didn’t know what I was watching…probably ‘cos that party scene is indeed too long. But I’ve not had the privilege you’ve had to see the various productions with all the big companies. [I doubt the Milwaukee company I saw it with when I was 4 counts.]

    The pas-de-deux has always been my favorite, probably cos it’s one of my favorite musical pieces for a pas-de-deux. Of all the Nutcrackers you’ve enjoyed, which one had the best? I’ll be heading back to my NYC hometown in a week or so for family “fun” and now you’ve got me tempted to get tickets as well!

    I’m psyched I found your blog!

    1. Thanks for stopping by—I’m always happy to hear from other dancers!

      I also love the Nutcracker pas de deux (along with Snow and Flowers). I can’t say which pas has been my favorite of all of them, though—while watching that particular scene, I haven’t been struck by feeling one was a standout among others, like how I do, these days, when I see NYCB’s Snow, or ABT’s forest scene.

      I hope you do end up seeing City Ballet’s production, sometime! The show always enchants me and makes me feel like a kid. And Sara Mearns was incredible as Dewdrop!

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