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Your Guide to Holiday Dance

Date: Dec 13, 2013


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Along with the indulgent taste of eggnog, a general sense of good will, and the smell of pine needles in the air, the holidays usher in a season of dance, including several productions of the beloved classic The Nutcracker. The ballet tells the tale of wide-eyed Clara as she travels to the Land of Sweets via magic created by Drosselmeyer, her mysterious but benevolent godfather. During her coming-of-age journey, she meets a host of fantastical characters including warring rats, a gallant Nutcracker Prince, and the gorgeous Sugarplum Fairy, who all sparkle with holiday cheer.

Here's your guide to many of this season's Nutcracker productions, as well as other holiday options.

The Traditional Take:

* American Ballet Theatre
The Nutcracker
December 13-22
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

Choreographed by ABT's phenomenal Artist in Residence Alexander Ratmansky, this offering dazzles with classical technique and choreography that references Petipa's/Ivanov's well-known version without being reductive. Ratmansky's unique style shines and the dancers sparkle in classical fashion. The pairing of the elegant Veronika Part and powerful Marcelo Gomes is particularly enticing this year.

* New York City Ballet
George Balanchine's The Nutcracker
Through Jan 4
David H. Koch Theater

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker uses the same narrative and structure as most, but is infused with the ballet master's iconic style and tweaks (Clara is called Marie, among other variations). Spectacular production aspects, like a famous one-ton Christmas tree that grows from 12 to 40 feet, are visually stunning, making it a dazzling option for new-to-Nutcracker watchers. To many New Yorkers, in fact, this is what Nutcracker memories are made of.

Young Stars Rising

* Gelsey Kirkland Ballet
The Nutcracker
Through December 15
Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace University

Gelsey Kirkland's glimmering and delicate performance alongside Mikhail Baryshinkov in American Ballet Theatre's video of The Nutcracker is an unquestionable part of a dance-lover's collection, but it's only one of many examples of Kirkland's status as the ballerina of the 70s. Now she's coaching young dancers at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet and shaping professionals at her eponymous company. Danced by four rotating casts of company members and filled out with academy students, most of the movement in her Nutcracker is choreographed by Kirkland's husband and partner Michael Chernov. With Kirkland's experience, skill, and keen eye, this is a new Nutcracker worth investigating.

* Ellison Ballet
Dec 17 and 18
Manhattan Movement and Arts Center
Winter Showcase 2013

Edward Ellison has curated an academy of rising standouts, training them rigorously to result in precise, elegant students with finesse and skill beyond their years. While the winter showcase doesn't include any Nutcracker variations, selections from Don Quixote, Le Corsaire and La Bayadere, among others, are sure to satisfy the craving for nostalgic fare that the holidays seem to provoke.

* Manhattan Youth Ballet
Dec 13-15 and 20-22
The Knickerbocker Suite
Manhattan Movement and Arts Center

The Knickerbocker Suite uses the New York streetscape as the backdrop for the traditional story, giving it added relevance. Case in point: Instead of the huge-skirted Mother Ginger playing with her multitude of children, the Statue of Liberty ushers in dancing immigrants. Fifth Avenue and Rockefeller Center get their moment in the snow, too. Choreography by a bevy of New York veterans (including Deborah Wingert and Daniel Ulbrict) and narration by Broadway heavy-hitter Michael Cerveris make this a clear choice for New Yorkers.

* New York Theatre Ballet
The Nutcracker
Florence Gould Hall at FIAF
Dec 14, 15 and 22 (with morning matinees)

Keith Michael's charming option comes in at just about an hour running time, making it perfect for younger viewers. Fantastical, colorful costumes and upbeat energy abound in this happy-go-lucky version that blends traditional elements with modern touches.

For the Adult Appetite

* Company XIV
Through January 4
Nutcracker Rouge
Minetta Lane Theater

For adult audiences looking to get more spice than sugar from a performance, Nutcracker Rouge offers a delightfully devious night. Austin McCormick's Company XIV uses baroque and burlesque to heat up a riff on the traditional narrative. You can expect contemporary music (though parts of the original score are also used), naughty outfits, and circus curiosities. But don't worry: The cast is still made of astounding dancers, so audiences can get a fix of dance and revelry all at once.

Thinking Outside the Giftbox

* Vertical Aerial Arts
The Nutcracker Circus Suite
Dec 14, 15, 20 and 21

The Galapagos Arts Space never fails to offer edgy, avant garde fare, and this combination of dance, aerial arts, and circus skills is no exception. Adult and family friendly, this version is immersive, too, so be ready to join in the holiday shenanigans, as audience members are actually part of the holiday-party scene that kicks off the classic.

* East Village Dance Project
The Shell-Shocked Nut
La Mama
January 3-5

Performed by a mix of professional and young dancers, this post-New Year offering is a cure for any fruitcake hangover. Set to a mix of music including, Tchaicovsky, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder and even The Ramones, this is the East Village incarnate. Generally based around the original, the piece also includes urban true stories---war veterans and city school kids included.