Face it: The Twin Cities is nuts about “The Nutcracker.” Where some cities have one, maybe two productions of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic, Minneapolis-St. Paul has nearly a dozen iterations dotting the metro, each with a loyal audience that returns year after year. That includes Minnesota Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker Fantasy,” choreographed by company founder Loyce Houlton more than 50 years ago. It also includes “Nutcracker (Not So) Suite,” a naughtier take originated by Ballet of the Dolls in the 1990s, only to be adopted in recent years by James Sewell Ballet. How do the artists behind these productions keep things fresh year after year? We polled a few of the Twin Cities’ key “Nutcracker” dancers, choreographers and actors.

Carlie Clemmerson
Minnesota Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker Fantasy”

Clemmerson, 19, plays the Sugar Plum Fairy for a second year, following a three-year stint as Clara. She first danced as a “Nutcracker” mouse when she was 13 and insists that she hasn’t tired of the show. “For some reason it feels new and different every year — through every different role,” she said. The hard part is maintaining stamina for the run of the show. “Toward the end, we are all exhausted on the inside. But honestly, the adrenaline when you are out there helps so much.” (Dec. 14-23, State Theatre, Mpls., $30-$75, ticketmaster.com)

Bradley Greenwald
James Sewell Ballet’s “Nutcracker (Not So) Suite”

Returning for a second year as Mama Flo, Greenwald is taking what worked from last year’s production while testing new approaches here and there. It creates a sense of danger, he said. “You’re not just regurgitating the same old scene, and the same old lines, and the same old emotional beats — you get to kind of remap your route through a scene and come up with some new stuff that you don’t know if it’s going to work until you are in front of a crowd. The audience can sense if you are doing it by rote or if you’re at the seat of your pants as an actor, and that allows that performance for that audience to be unlike any other.” (Dec. 7-22, Cowles Center, Mpls., $36-$41, thecowlescenter.org)

Zoé Emilie Henrot
Ballet Co. Laboratory’s “Nutcracker in Wonderland”

Henrot takes her second stab at choreographing the holiday classic, after first leading St. Paul Ballet’s production of “Clara’s Dream.” With this freshly crafted production, the 28-year-old artistic director tries moving away from some of the show’s cultural stereotypes by substituting “Alice in Wonderland” characters for the typical Arabian, Chinese and Spanish dancers. She also turns the ballet’s traditional pas de deux into a dance between two women. “We always have that question in ballet — should we keep doing the things that have been done for centuries, or should we evolve?” Henrot said. “It’s been exciting to maintain the story that’s all about wonderment around the holidays — and to a certain extent discovering oneself — and be able to stand behind it as artists who are also socially aware of what is going on in our country and in the world.” (Dec. 14-16, Huss Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul, $22-$35, ballet colaboratory.org.)

Robert Cleary
Ballet Minnesota’s “The Classic Nutcracker”

The 62-year-old artist resides in Madison, Wis., where he runs a modern dance company. But he returns to Minnesota annually to play the mysterious Godfather Drosselmeyer. In fact, 2018 marks Cleary’s 20th consecutive year with the Ballet Minnesota production. “No working dance artist does ‘Nutcracker’ because it’s the best art the world of dance has to offer,” he confessed. And yet he enjoys the way it conjures magic for young people. “There’s something really fun and fantastic about how ‘The Nutcracker’ has become the go-to gateway drug for dance.” (Dec. 14-16, the O’Shaughnessy, St. Paul, $36-$46, oshag.stkate.edu)

Natalie Rossi
Twin Cities Ballet’s “A Minnesota Nutcracker”

Now in her fourth season with the Twin Cities Ballet production, Rossi has been dancing “The Nutcracker” since she was about 12. She’s been playing the Sugar Plum Fairy for the past three years. Now she’ll alternate between that role and one of the Arabian dancers. Rossi, 24, said she’ll be delighted to keep doing “The Nutcracker” for another decade. “It has such a magic to it,” she said. “It’s so exciting knowing how much the public loves it.” (Dec. 7-9, Ames Center, Burnsville, $24-$39, twincitiesballet.org)

Riet Velthuisen
Continental Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

Now in her 30th year as Continental Ballet founder and artistic director, Velthuisen never does the same “Nutcracker” twice. “I always change as much as possible to make it better for the audience, and also for the dancers so they don’t get bored,” she said. With each iteration, she also tries to match the skill level of her current company. This year? “I have some new dancers,” she said. “So I made the technical parts harder.” (Dec. 2-10, Bloomington Center for the Arts, $25, continentalballet.com)

Erik Sanborn
Metropolitan Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

Here’s another founder/artistic director who favors switching things up year to year. Sanborn’s 2018 production promises a new waltz of the snowflakes, a new waltz of the flowers, plus new Arabian and Spanish dances. The company even added an Easy Bake oven to the section where dancers play cookies. “Keeping things fresh and exciting is really important,” said the 54-year-old choreographer. (Dec. 15 & 16, Lindbergh Center Auditorium, Minnetonka, $39-$59, nutcracker minneapolis.org)

T. Mychael Rambo
St. Paul Ballet’s “A Nutcracker Story”

And now for the “Nutcracker” newbie. As part of the creative team behind St. Paul Ballet’s refreshed production, the Twin Cities stage veteran makes his first foray into “Nutcracker” land. But he’s no novice when it comes to holiday shows, having performed 17 times with Penumbra Theatre’s “Black Nativity.” “Each year, you have to give yourself a standard — a new year resolution,” he said. “What am I going to do different this year?” Rambo will play Uncle D, who acts as a kind of narrator. The character “invites the audience into the experience, to be present with what you are seeing,” Rambo said. “Don’t go away — stay with us.” (Dec. 1 & 2, the O’Shaughnessy, St. Paul, $22-$37, spballet.org)


Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.