A giant mouse. A growing tree. A land of sugarplums and marzipan. The sound of pointe shoes softly landing on a stage floor. Snowflakes whirling. Soaring music, whether live or recorded, that brings a sense of wonder — like you’re 6 years old again, just for a minute.
So many of us have memories of seeing “The Nutcracker” at holiday time, whether it’s a vast, polished professional production or a seat-of-the-pants recital at a neighborhood ballet school. I’ve seen more than my share of “Nuts” but the one that still resonates the most with me was a decidedly low-budget affair in a high school gym; I was 6 and it was magical. Your first one stays with you, no matter what may come later.
In case there’s someone in your family who’s ready for a first “Nutcracker” this holiday season — or if you’d like to find a little nut-flavored holiday magic yourself — here are an assortment of local productions. Some are traditional and some are not, but each offers something special. See you under the tree.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”
PNB’s lavish version of the holiday ballet is definitely the biggest “Nut” in town, with classic 1954 choreography by George Balanchine, sets and costumes by Ian Falconer unveiled in 2015, a full cast of company members and PNB School students, and the splendid PNB Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s score. It’s a “Nutcracker” unique to the Pacific Northwest, made right here at home: PNB reports that 99.98% of what you see on the stage was built in Seattle by local artisans, craftspeople, carpenters, painters and animators. One additional custom touch was unveiled last year: the Green Tea Cricket, a highflying role performed as part of the Chinese variation in Act 2, changed from the original as part of an effort to rid the ballet of racial stereotypes.
Nov. 25-Dec. 27; McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $27-$202 (digital access $49); 206-441-2424, pnb.org
Emerald Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker”
Company founder Viktoria Titova is a former ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet, and she choreographed this “Nutcracker” with inspiration from Soviet choreographer Vasily Vainonen, whose version dates from the 1930s. This will be the Bellevue-based company’s 15th annual “Nutcracker,” and it’s one of the few with a live orchestra, led by David Waltman. Guest artist Joshua Grant, a soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet, will perform as the Cavalier.
“Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker”
This isn’t exactly a traditional “Nutcracker” (despite the use of Tchaikovsky’s score, in playful jazz, performed by a live nine-piece band), but it’s definitely a Seattle tradition. Now in its 16th season, this cheerfully grown-up “Nut” features elaborate costumes that are (mostly) removed by its cast of dancers and burlesque artists, including Lily Verlaine (the show’s co-presenter, with Jasper McCann) as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Babette La Fave as a juggler of light, and special ballet guests as the Rat King.
Dec. 7-30; The Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $70-85, landofthesweets.com
Donald Byrd’s “The Harlem Nutcracker”
A multiyear labor of love and dedication, this ambitious remounting of Byrd’s beloved 1996 holiday work isn’t quite finished yet: This is a preview production that won’t include the final 20 minutes of the show or the complete sets and costumes. Byrd and his company, Spectrum Dance Theater, began with workshops several years ago; now they’re aiming for a full production for next year. Inspired by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s jazz arrangements of the Tchaikovsky score (with additional music by David Berger), Byrd’s “Nutcracker” takes place on Christmas Eve in the home of Clara, a Black matriarch. Facing her first holiday without her beloved husband, she dreams about their shared past, which included nights dancing at the famed Cotton Club. Dancers from the company will share the stage with students from Spectrum’s school.
Dec. 8-11 and 15-18; On the Boards, 100 Roy St., Seattle; $20-$50 (pay-what-you-can suggested $10); spectrumdance.org
Evergreen City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”
After a two-year pandemic absence, Evergreen City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is back for its 27th year — and it’s an exceptionally family-friendly production. With original choreography by ECB artistic director Wade Walthall (a former PNB principal dancer), ECB’s “Nut” makes a special effort to involve families of the young dancers from its school: Parents perform alongside their children in the party scene and as Drosselmeyer and Mother Ginger. Likewise, ECB gives special consideration to the youngest (and squirmiest) audience members, offering both a full-length production with intermission and a special one-hour version aimed at little ones.
Dec. 9-11; Auburn Performing Arts Center, 702 Fourth St. N.E., Auburn. Dec. 16-18; Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, 400 S. Second St., Renton; $15-$35; evergreencityballet.org
International Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker”
An Eastside tradition of more than 20 years (its first “Nutcracker” was in 2001), International Ballet Theatre lives up to its name, presenting a truly international production. Choreographed by IBT founder and artistic director Vera Altunina (based closely on the original 1890s ballet by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa), the production features backdrops and costumes designed and handcrafted by artisans of the Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Ukraine. Kateryna Kukhar and Alexander Stoyanov, of the National Opera of Ukraine, will perform as guest artists this year, alongside members of the IBT company and students of the Bellevue-based International Ballet Academy.
Dec. 9-23; Meydenbauer Center Theatre, 11100 N.E. Sixth St., Bellevue; $27-$55 advance purchase ($35-$65 at the door, if available); ibtbellevue.org
Olympic Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker”
Another long-running “Nut,” OBT has been presenting its holiday classic since 1982, performing this year in both Everett and Edmonds. Its version is choreographed by company artistic directors Oleg Gorboulev and Mara Vinson, both former dancers with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Dec. 10-11; Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett. Dec. 16-20; Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Ave. N., Edmonds. $25-$50; olympicballet.org
Tacoma City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”
Every “Nutcracker” is unique, but Tacoma City Ballet’s version has a particularly fascinating twist: It’s a physical replica of the original 1892 “Nutcracker” danced in St. Petersburg, Russia. Back in the late 1990s, TCB received a grant to recreate the production from photographs — including sets, costumes, props and much of the choreography. The oldest ballet company in the region, TCB has been around since 1955, and has been presenting a “Nutcracker” at Tacoma’s historic Pantages Theatre — complete with live accompaniment by the Tacoma City Ballet Orchestra — since 1983.
Dec. 10-11 and 17-18; Pantages Theatre, 901 Broadway, Tacoma; $17.50-$102.50; tacomacityballet.com
The photo of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” has been updated with the correct name of the dancer who played the Cricket.