After a year's hiatus, in-person versions of "The Nutcracker" are back in the Twin Cities, and as plentiful as they seemingly have always been.
Part of the fun about the two-act production of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" is tradition, which is why so many people enjoy seeing a particular version year after year. That being said, there are always new traditions to explore.
For example, Twin Cities Ballet's production of "A Minnesota Nutcracker" is adding a sensory-relaxed performance on Dec. 9. It will allow for relaxed theater rules, including having the house lights on, keeping theater doors open and designating a "quiet zone." For example, Twin Cities Ballet's production of "A Minnesota Nutcracker" is adding a sensory-relaxed performance on Dec. 9. It will allow for relaxed theater rules, including having the house lights on, keeping theater doors open and designating a "quiet zone." A production with a twist is the "Nutcracker in Wonderland," which features a Rat Queen and a Rat King in the first act and the Cheshire Cat and caterpillar in the second one.
There are also new shows featuring longstanding traditions. St. Paul Ballet showcases scenes once used in "City Children's Nutcracker" by Lirena Branitski, who was a touring member of the Bolshoi Theatre and came to Minnesota during the Cold War.
As in past years, the various productions of the beloved holiday ballet are as varied as candies in the Land of Sweets. But how well do you really know the "Nutcracker" landscape? Here are a few questions to test your knowledge of local productions and the ballet's history.
Q: The libretto is based on E.T.A. Hoffman's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." But what is the back story of the 1816 fairy tale?
A: The Nutcracker was originally a puppet maker who saved a princess from a curse, only to be cursed himself by the Mouse Queen.
Q: Why is the main character sometimes called Clara and other times called Marie, Maria or Masha?
A: French author Alexander Dumas changed the main character's name from Marie to Clara. Dumas' version was used in the original ballet production, and confusion has reigned ever since.
Q: What is the name of the device used in the original 1892 Mariinsky Theater production in St. Petersburg that made the Sugar Plum Fairy appear to be lighter than air?
A: Choreographers Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa set up a small platform or wagon set on a track called a reika for the debut. As the sugar plum fairy, holding the prince's hand, stepped on a scarf, the reika operated from beneath the stage floor moved her along the stage. The contraption made the fairy seem to be lighter than air.
A side fact: The original in 1892 was a flop. The interpretations on the East and West coasts reignited interest in the ballet in the mid-20th century.
Q: What instrument did Tchaikovsky use to make the "voice" of the Sugar Plum Fairy?
A: The Celesta, aka celeste or bell-piano, is similar to a miniature piano. Operated by a keyboard, it has smaller keys than a piano. Instead of strings inside, it is made up of bells to create the sound.
Q: Which dance company decided to do away with the rat fight scene?
A: Rather than a battle scene with the rats, Continental Ballet's "The Nutcracker Ballet" has a friendly encounter with the critters. Founder and director Riet Velthuisen has said she decided to cut the scene because "there is enough violence in the world today. I don't want it to be part of the ballet."
Q: Which long-running production debuted at the Moppet Players, a precursor to Children's Theatre Company?
A: It's Loyce Houlton's "Nutcracker Fantasy," and it opened in 1964. Houlton, who founded the Contemporary Dance Playhouse (now Minnesota Dance Theatre) in 1962, debuted Houlton's version of the "Nutcracker" in 1964. The company continues the beloved tradition at the State Theatre these days and is led by Houlton's daughter, Lise Houlton. The ballet features a 44-piece orchestra conducted by Philip Brunelle.
Q: What is the other company that features a live orchestra?
A: The other noteworthy production is Metropolitan Ballet's "Nutcracker 2021." It is accompanied by the 60-piece Kenwood Symphony Orchestra playing the entire Tchaikovsky score.
Q: What local sites are featured in the Twin Cities Ballet's "A Minnesota Nutcracker?"
A: Painted backdrops of St. Paul's Rice Park and Summit Avenue mansions have been featured and so have the snowy banks of the Mississippi River.
Q: How many shoes does a ballet dancer typically prepare for a weekend of performances?
A: Three to four.
IF YOU GO
Here are the "Nutcracker" productions in the Twin Cities this season:
Collide Theatrical: Holiday Cabaret
This variety dance show includes some "Nutcracker" favorites. (Friday-Dec. 12, Collide Cabaret, St., Paul, $45, 651-395-7903, collidetheatrical.org.)
Continental Ballet: "Nutcracker"
There are no gimmicks in this production; just friendly mice and beautiful dancing. (Dec. 9-12, Bloomington Center for the Arts, Bloomington, $25, 952-563-8562, continentalballet.com.)
Twin Cities Ballet: "A Minnesota Nutcracker"
Instead of Moscow, the action takes place in Rice Park and other locations in the Twin Cities. (Dec. 10-12, Dec. 9 sensory-relaxed, Ames Center, Burnsville, $27-$40, 952-895-4685, ames-center.com)
St. Paul Ballet: "Best of the Nutcracker"
Students from St. Paul Ballet present snippets from different versions of the "Nutcracker," including crowd favorites by Lirena Branitski. (Dec. 10-11, the O'Shaughnessy, St. Paul, $30, 651-690-6700, oshag.stkate.edu.)
Ballet Co.Laboratory: "Nutcracker in Wonderland"
Clara meets characters from "Alice in Wonderland" and they dance to Tchaikovsky's score. (Dec. 11-12, Ted Mann Concert Hall, St. Paul, $35, 651-313-5967, balletcolaboratory.org.)
Minnesota Dance Theatre: "Loyce Houlton's Nutcracker Fantasy"
Minnesota's longest-running production features elaborate costumes and choreography that still feels fresh after many decades. (Dec. 17-22, State Theatre, Mpls., $35-$80, 800-982-2787, hennepintheatretrust.org.)
Ballet Minnesota: "Classic Nutcracker"
It includes professional dancers from Brazil, Japan, Venezuela, New York, Texas and the Twin Cities. (Dec. 18-19, the O'Shaughnessy, St. Paul, $42, 651-690-6700, oshag.stkate.edu.)
Metropolitan Ballet: "Nutcracker 2021"
This Twin Cities production features the largest number of orchestral players. (Dec. 11-12, Lindbergh Center Auditorium, $47-$79, 952-937-1387, metroballet.org.)