Arts Desk

Love Her or Hate Her, the Sugarplum Fairy Inevitably Returns

For dance lovers, parsing the various versions of The Nutcracker on offer during the holiday season has become something of a high art. Year after year, the production inevitably returns, providing audiences with the equivalent of Christmas-themed comfort food and dance companies with revenues to sustain them for the other 11 months.

When you were a kid, there might’ve been just one: a ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score that was either boring as hell or enchantingly magical (there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground on that). These days, though, it’s a multicolored mini-industry: an LA Times blog pointed out that this year, there are 751 Nutcracker-themed productions of various stripes occurring around the country. There are jazz Nutcrackers, hip-hop Nutcracker, bawdy Nutcrackers, and so on.

The performances occurring here in Washington hew, not too surprisingly, fairly closely to the classic production. Still, there are a couple of options out there that can’t-live-without-my-Sugarplum-Fairy types may want to consider.

Caveat: Don’t take this for an exhaustive critique of the productions’ high points and weaknesses. I’m no Nutcracker expert; in fact, I saw my first Nutcracker in 30 years last week. The upshot? The first act was delightful, the second dull and plotless. But that’s just me. Go, go—indulge your need to dissolve into fantasyland for a couple hours. No judgment, I swear.

The Washington Ballet has been producing a Nutcracker for the past 50 years, though the current version, choreographed by artistic director Septime Webre, is fairly recent. It’s set in a Georgetown row house in the distant past, and actually takes place at the Warner Theatre, whose gilded ceiling and baroque decorations provide a very real sense of glamour and class. Sarah Kaufman of the Washington Post reviews it here; in sum, she says, it’s got the “Aww!” adorableness factor all over it. Showing through Dec. 24 at the Warner. $31-$105.

The New York City Ballet, one of the country’s best companies, is trying its hand at simulcasting a production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker to theaters across the country. No, it won’t be live, but that means getting up in the middle of a pas de deux for more popcorn is fully acceptable. Plus, this is the version that kicked off the Nutcracker craze back in the 1950s, and it’s considered a classic. To learn more, read dance writer Apollinaire Scherr’s review of it in the Financial Times. Showing at AMC Mazza Gallerie, Ballston Common, AMC Hoffman Center, Regal Potomac Yards 16 and other locations on December 13 at 6 p.m. $15-$20.

And if you can’t stomach another production but are desperate to talk about the meaning of it all, the Dance Exchange is hosting a “Nutcracker Confidential” this Thursday night. Think of it as a support group for the holiday-ballet-obsessed and those who love them, set in a party atmosphere. Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Dance Exchange. $10.

Photo by Stephan Baranovics

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