“Nutcracker” season has officially arrived for Minnesota dance lovers, with the annual rush of productions starting this week. Many of these shows look a lot like the Tchaikovsky ballet’s 1892 premiere, with Clara (or Marie in some versions) unwrapping a gift Nutcracker who comes alive to lead an enchanted journey. Cue the tutus, tin soldiers and acrobatic Russians!
Then again, there are plenty of fresh spins on the classic. Take the hip-hop version opening Tuesday at the State Theatre. Or James Sewell Ballet’s irreverent version with Barbie and Ken. Or St. Paul Ballet’s feminist take.
5 traditional shows:
‘Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy’
The full orchestra does wonders for the “Nutcracker” experience. That’s a huge selling point for Minnesota Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker Fantasy,” featuring 44 musicians conducted by VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle. For more than 50 years, Minnesota Dance Theatre has brought back this classic production, first staged by company founder Loyce Houlton in the 1960s with a huge cast of professional dancers and students. It definitely offers the fullest experience in terms of music and dancing.
Dec. 15-23, State Theatre, Mpls., $30-$75, hennepin theatretrust.org
Ballet Minnesota’s ‘Classic Nutcracker’
Ballet Minnesota has been at this game for 30 years, growing its audience from 20 to 10,000 annually for its “Classic Nutcracker.” This year’s show features Instagram star Dusty Button as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Trained at both the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet and London’s Royal Ballet School, Button was a principal dancer at Boston Ballet before embarking on a career as soloist and choreographer.
Dec. 15-17, the O’Shaughnessy, St. Paul, $21-$46, oshag.stkate.edu
‘The Great Russian Nutcracker’
See how the Russians do it. Presented by the Moscow Ballet, this show features a touring company of dancers from Russia and Ukraine. Moscow Ballet veers slightly from the traditional story: Instead of visiting the “Land of Sweets,” young Masha travels with her Nutcracker to the “Land of Peace and Harmony,” a world inhabited by 10-foot-tall puppets — including the lovely Dove of Peace puppet, operated by two dancers moving together as one bird.
3 & 7 p.m. Dec. 2, Orpheum Theatre, Mpls., $32-$102, hennepintheatretrust.org
Continental Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’
With all the violence in the world, who can blame choreographer Riet Velthuisen for scrapping the fight scenes — even though they involve toy soldiers and mice. Here the mice are friendly, not harmful. Otherwise Velthuisen sticks with the basics. No gimmicks here. Just beautiful dancing in celebration of Continental Ballet’s 30th season.
Dec. 2-10, Bloomington Center for the Arts, Bloomington, $13-$25, continentalballet.com
Twin Cities Ballet: ‘A Minnesota Nutcracker’
Clara and the gang get transported from Moscow to Minnesota for this Twin Cities-themed “Nutcracker.” The show sports a cozy local feel with painted backdrops featuring Rice Park, Summit Avenue mansions and winter scenes along the Mississippi. Last year’s run sold out well in advance, so nab your tickets early.
Dec. 8-10, Ames Center, Burnsville, $20-$38, ames-center.com
3 funky options:
‘Hip Hop Nutcracker’
For those who like their “Nutcracker” a little edgy, a little more contemporary and a lot more hip. A touring company from New York City takes E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 narrative and moves it to 1980s Brooklyn, complete with break dancing, DJ and electric violin. Audiences will recognize Tchaikovsky’s major musical themes, though they’re infused here with hip-hop beats courtesy of MC Kurtis Blow.
7:30 p.m. Tue. & Wed., State Theatre, Mpls., $28.50-$68.50, hennepintheatretrust.org
‘Nutcracker (not so) Suite’
Twin Cities actor Bradley Greenwald joins the cast of “Nutcracker (not so) Suite,” back for its third year at the Cowles. Playing the hilariously terrible Mama Flo, Greenwald brings his talents as a singer and comedic actor — not to mention his affinity for drag, a key to choreographer Myron Johnson’s saucy vision for the tale. Originally created for Ballet of the Dolls in the 1990s, Johnson’s “Nutcracker (not so) Suite” has found new life with James Sewell Ballet. The show’s a little different every year, but Marie’s dream-journey to the land of Barbie and Ken is a reliable riot. Naughtier version performed select nights.
Dec. 15-30, Cowles Center, Mpls., $30-$50, thecowlescenter.org
‘Clara’s Dream From the Nutcracker’
St. Paul Ballet dispenses with the romance, focusing instead on the character of Clara. There’s no prince in this version; there’s not even a nutcracker. Instead, Clara takes a journey of self-discovery to the dream world (led by Uncle Drosselmeyer) to encounter tin soldiers, mice, snowflakes, angels many other delights. Choreographed by Artistic Director Zoé Emilie Henrot, “Clara’s Dream” is the most feminist of the local “Nutcrackers,” giving its main character more agency and allowing her to enjoy childhood without the pressure to fall in love.
Dec. 1-3, the O’Shaughnessy, St. Paul, $20-$35, oshag.stkate.edu
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts writer.