Unlike Santa Claus and regifting, the implement for cracking nuts has not been a hallowed holiday tradition in American cultural life for as long as you might think.
When storied Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky wrote his commissioned score for “The Nutcracker” in 1892, even with all its earworm tunes, the ballet was a flop (though Czar Nicholas II liked it) and was only periodically staged.
It wasn’t seen anywhere but Russia until in 1934 in London. Not surprisingly, the ballet didn’t appear in the United States until 1944, when it was put on by the San Francisco Opera Ballet. During the height of World War II, that initial production wasn’t widely appreciated, either.
But the Bay Area performance was noteworthy and crucial for a significant reason: it was choreographed by a Russian expatriate named George Balanchine, the man who would become ballet’s most significant creative force of the 20th century.
Balanchine’s subsequent and beloved staging in 1954 with his New York City Ballet company was the launching pad for what has become the most annually performed dance in America.
Estimates of how many times it is done by how many companies and how many people see it bounce around more than a ballet corps, but safe to say — especially for those trying to find a parking space while dodging tons of kids running into the local arts center on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas — it’s a lot!
“The Nutcracker” is more significant than seasonal fun: it is also the most important dance performed in America each year from the standpoint of financially supporting the art form.
For instance, New York City Ballet will stage the ballet for 76 performances this year. Company Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford estimated in 2021, upon the return of live performances that were halted by COVID-19, that 45% of its annual ticket sales — reported by The New York Times as about $15 million — came from its “Nutcracker” alone.
Though the dollar amounts may be less for smaller companies, “The Nutcrackers” remains massively important when it comes annual underwriting and financial support. As former Los Angeles Ballet Artistic Director Thordal Christensen put it: “(‘The Nutcracker’ is) the backbone of most professional ballet companies around America.”
Of equal importance, is the show’s impact on sustaining and growing dance culture in America.
“It’s the best gateway,” Stafford said. “When kids see the production, they grow up and put their kids in ballet because they have this appreciation for ballet simply by going to see ‘The Nutcracker’ once a year.
“It leads to more support down the road.”
Below is a list of many of the productions of “The Nutcracker” that can be seen in Southern California this year. With attendance helping support an entire art form it’s likely one of the more significant gifts you’ll be giving this season. Productions are listed chronologically by first performance.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY
Debbie Allen’s ‘Hot Chocolate Nutcracker’
This modernized spin on the classic ballet from the acclaimed choreographer’s dance academy features three wise-cracking mice from New York City who lead the audience on a trip to exotic locales such as Candy Cane Land, the Indian Rainforest/Bollywood, Jazzland and the Land of the Kimono Dolls. Dec. 1-4. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach. $50-$125. eventbrite.com
Los Angeles Ballet
This “Nutcracker” is again on the move as Los Angeles Ballet’s production appears in five venues. This version reflects its regionalism: Set in 1912 Los Angeles, the five scenes in two acts have such visual touches as a Spanish-style home, bougainvillea and a moonlit Pacific Ocean. 6 p.m. Dec. 3 and 2 p.m. Dec. 4 at Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale ($40-$137); noon and 5 p.m. Dec. 10 and noon Dec. 11 at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach ($40-$137); 8 p.m. Dec. 16, noon and 5 p.m. Dec. 17, and noon and 5 p.m. Dec. 18 at Royce Hall, UCLA, 10745 Dickson Court, Los Angeles ($40-$137); and with the Los Angeles Ballet Orchestra, 2 p.m. Dec. 22, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 23, 11 a.m. Dec. 24, 2 p.m. Dec. 26 at Dolby Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood ($78-$144). losangelesballet.org
Los Angeles Philharmonic
“Nutcracker” minus the ballet? It’s unlikely Tchaikovsky can sound better than conducted by music director Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program has a twist: along with the Los Angeles Children’s Master Chorale, the first half will feature selections from the Tchaikovsky score. But after the intermission comes Duke Ellington’s jazz re-working, “The Nutcracker Suite.” 8 p.m. Dec. 3, 2 p.m. Dec. 4, 8 p.m. Dec. 14 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18. Disney Hall, 111 South Grand Ave, Los Angeles. laphil.com
Additionally: For the first time since 2013, Dudamel is also leading the orchestra in a “Nutcracker” “Symphonies for Youth” Saturday matinee concert with dance elements. Designed for children ages 5-11. 11 a.m. Dec. 17. $23-27. Disney Hall.
Dance! To Your Heart’s Delight
While a Tustin-based company, its 18th annual production of “Nutcracker” will be seen again in Los Angeles County. Its single production of the year draws its cast from across all ages in an intimate staging. 2 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 2 p.m. Dec. 4. Downey Theatre, 8435 Firestone Blvd., Downey. $33-$50. dtyhd.com
San Pedro City Ballet
Founded in 1994 by Cynthia and Patrick Bradley, this company’s “Nutcracker” has been a South Bay staple ever since. Best known for discovering an area prodigy named Misty Copeland, the first Black principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre, San Pedro’s seasonal tradition continues in its longtime home. 7 p.m. Dec. 9, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 10, 2 p.m. Dec. 11. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 West 6th Street, San Pedro. $30-40. sanpedrocityballet.org
Long Beach Ballet
Long Beach Ballet Artistic Director David Wilcox is blunt: “You can hate ballet and you’ll still like this production.” Known for pulling out all the stops — there’s a flying sleigh, on-stage pyrotechnics and special effects designed by a magician this season. Some 250 performers are accompanied by a full symphony orchestra featuring two harps, not just one, “as Tchaikovsky intended it.” Terrace Theatre, Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center 300 E. Ocean Blvd. Long Beach. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17, 2 p.m. Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23, $32-$85. longbeachballet.com
Pasadena Dance Theater
Founded in 1958, this organization has mounted an annual production for more than 50 years, this year with dancers Katherine Williams and Eric Tamm of American Ballet Theatre taking on the lead roles. Choreography is by the company’s interim artistic director Jessamyn Vedro-Lawrence. 2 p.m. Dec. 22, 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 23, 1 p.m. Dec. 24. San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, 320 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel. $25-75. pasadenadancetheatre.org
Led by longtime company directors Lawrence and Sarma Rosenberg, Anaheim Ballet’s production features staging and choreography by Sarma with live accompaniment from Symphony Irvine. 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26. City National Grove of Anaheim 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim. $25-45. anaheimballet.org (Additionally, this production will be in residence Dec. 15-18 at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort in Laughlin, Nev. Call 800-227-3849, ext. 618 for tickets)
The Pacific Symphony
The Pacific Symphony brings back its plucky 45-minute “Nutcracker for Kids” to Costa Mesa. This sets up in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, featuring the orchestra and dancers from the Festival Ballet Theatre. Aimed at children ages 5-11, with an extremely good chance Santa Claus will show up, too. 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Dec. 3, Segerstrom Center, 600 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa. $47-$92. pacificsymphony.org
American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa remains the gold standard of Southern California performances. Beyond the national caliber cast, costumes, lighting and design, the expressive narrative, as well as pinpoint choreography, from world-class ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky, blends impeccable first-act miming and second-act dance. 7 p.m. Dec. 9, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 10, 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11, 7 p.m. Dec. 14, 7 p.m. Dec 15, 2 p.m. Dec. 16, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 17, 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 18. Segerstrom Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $29-$219. scfta.org
Festival Ballet Theatre
The company returns to its traditional December home since 2007 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre and longtime Artistic Director Salwa Rizkalla’s choreography will be on fulsome display again this season. Among the annual highlights of the FBT “Nutcracker” is a rotation of imported guest artists to fill the 2 lead dancing roles. In the past these have included principals and soloists from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and even the mighty Bolshoi (though, for obvious reasons, not this year). 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 10, 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 11, 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 17, 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 18, 6 p.m. Dec. 20, 6 p.m. Dec. 21, 6 p.m., Dec. 22, 6 p.m. Dec. 23, 11 a.m., Dec. 24. Irvine Barclay Theatre 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $45-$110. festivalballet.org
Inland Valley Ballet Theatre
Promoting sparkling costumes that “would make Liberace weep with envy,” this regional production, affiliated with the Temecula Ballet School, has discounting for kids, as well as ages 65 and over. 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27. Old Town Temecula Community Theater 42051 Main St, Temecula. $30-$40. tickets.temeculatheater.org
Inland Pacific Ballet
This Montclair-based troupe also hits the road within the Inland Empire with nine performances at two venues. An elaborate production includes about 80 performers.
2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 2 p.m. Dec. 4, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10, 2 p.m. Dec. 11. Lewis Family Playhouse at Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, 12505 Cultural Center Dr, Rancho Cucamonga. $70-86. 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18. Fox Performing Arts Center. 3801 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, $24-82. ipballet.org
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY
Inland Empire Contemporary Ballet
This will be the sixth year for the company’s “Nutcracker” production, staged by artistic director Jamie Azpeitia-Sachs. The company is an adjunct of the Inland Empire Dance Center and Azpeitia-Sachs is a former dancer with Debbie Allen Dance and Los Angeles Ballet. Yucaipa Performing Arts Center, 12062 California St., Yucaipa. Dec. 2, 7 pm, Dec. 3, 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 4, 4 p.m. $20-35. ticketmaster.com
Lake Arrowhead Classical Ballet Company
Founded in 1993 by Sharon McCormick, who is also a choreographer, this neighborhood and community-based company has grown enough to relocate its annual Nutcracker production to a larger theater in San Bernardino for the first time. 7 p.m. Dec. 2, 3:30 and 7 p.m. Dec. 3, 2:30 p.m. Dec. 4. San Manuel Performing Arts Center, 2772 Sterling Ave., San Bernardino. $25. arrowheadballet.org
Inland Dance Theatre
In addition to being the primary presenter of “The Nutcracker” in San Bernardino County since 1976, Inland Dance Theatre has presented an annual weekday staging — boasting a cast of 100 — for area school children, with an estimated total of more than 200,000 children having seen the show for free. Regular ticketed performances this year: 7 p.m. Dec. 9, 7 p.m. Dec. 10, and 2:15 p.m. Dec. 11. California Theatre of the Performing Arts, 562 W. 4th St., San Bernardino. $35-$40. idtnutcracker.org/tickets
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