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A Christmas Tradition: The Nutcracker Still Sparkles in Philadelphia

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PA Ballet, Photo 1For many Philadelphia-area families, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is as much a part of Christmas tradition as snowy weather, Santa Claus, and re-gifting fruitcake. Once again, the Pennsylvania Ballet doesn’t disappoint with this year’s production. 

Just two years ago, the Company rejuvenated The Nutcracker with new costumes and sets by Judanna Lynn and Peter Horne, respectively. For this writer, who had not seen the ballet since 1990, these elements breathed a new life and fantastic quality to the ballet. 

The cast includes about 40 adults and 40 children, and the young dancers carry the first half of the production. So, for those attending The Nutcracker to get their feet wet in the art form, they may be disappointed to see that more classical ballet elements don’t appear until the end of the first act. 

The young dancers in the production, who are mostly pulled from local ballet schools, are well-rehearsed, almost to the point that they lose their childlike quality. That said, they are energetic and convey the excitement of Christmas to the audience in an honest way. The adult dancers in the party scene are, indeed, elegant and convey the spirit of a classic Christmas party. 

PA Ballet, Photo 2PA Ballet, Photo 2For those looking for special effects, The Nutcracker delivers. The ballet’s famous Christmas tree performs its own dance as it grows at the stroke of midnight. Marie’s four-poster bed also springs to life while the nutcracker doll rests there after Fritz, Marie’s brother, damages it. 

If that’s not enough, during the battle that ensures between the Mouse King (check out his silly shoes!) and the toy soldiers, large cheese wedges fly across the stage to distract the mice. This revelry seemed to delight parents and children alike in the audience, and they were a refreshing change to the often seriously portrayed fight. 

Just before Marie and her prince arrive in the Land of Sweets, the corps de ballet greets them in a graceful and swirling snow scene. It’s at this point that the focus of the ballet moves from the child dancers to the Company. The Philadelphia Boys Choir also serenades the audience along with Tschaikovsky’s orchestrations to close the first Act. 

Once in the Land of Sweets in Act II, the audience meets the traditional cast of characters, including Coffee, Tea, Mother Ginger, the Dew Drop Fairy and her flowers, and, of course, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. All of the adult roles are shared among the Company’s principals and soloists. Special performances to note, however, are Jermel Johnson’s Candy Cane, Amy Aldridge’s Dew Drop Fairy, and Riolama Lorenzo’s Coffee. 

PA Ballet, Photo 3There’s still time to see The Nutcracker this year. Remaining performances at the Academy of Music are as follows: 

  • December 26, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  • December 27, noon and 4 p.m.
  • December 28, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  • December 29, noon and 4 p.m.
  • December 30, noon and 4 p.m.
  • December 31, noon 

For more information or to order tickets, visit www.paballet.org or call 215-893-1999. Ticket prices range from $24 to $129. Groups of 10 or more can purchase discount tickets by calling 215-587-6921. 

Photo 1: Francis Veyette in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker; Photo: Erin Baiano for Paul Kolnik.

Photo 2: Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker; Photo: Erin Baiano for Paul Kolnik.

Photo 3:  

Gabriella Yudenich in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker; Photo: Erin Baiano for Paul Kolnik.