It’s Nutcracker season – that time of year when the classically timeless story is performed throughout in the Bay Area in many different forms. It doesn’t matter that it’s Russian in origin, or that companies have taken creative liberties with the setting, period or choreography since the San Francisco Ballet introduced this work to Americans years ago. Everyone loves the Nutcracker story.
It’s sort of like Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Families love the Stahlbaum family, the kids: Fritz, Louise, Marie and the other characters. “It’s a holiday story, with a lot of fantasy, colors, and music,” said Denise Brown, a fourth-grade teacher at LeConte Elementary School.
“People might not want to go the movies, they might want something special, so it provides that extra fun experience,” says Elizabeth Godfrey, the artistic director at the Berkeley City Ballet.
Even with all the various versions of the Nutcracker ballet, people often attend more than one performance.
There is the Dance-a-long Nutcracker, Dance Brigade’s Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie, Mark Morris’ “The Hard Nut,” Oakland Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and the Berkeley Ballet Theatre, which produces a more contemporary performance.
Berkeley City Ballet has a much larger production of the Nutcracker than the Berkeley Ballet Theatre, however, BBT is housed at the Julia Morgan Theatre so it has a longer run than BCB, which doesn’t have a large theatre space at their studios at 1800 Dwight Way. This 28-year-old company was honored last month by the city. In fact, November was Berkeley Ballet Company month.
BCB’s Nutcracker performs Saturday, Dec. 8 and Sunday, Dec. 9. Both performances are at 2 p.m. at the Berkeley Community Theatre on the Berkeley High campus (510) 841-8913, or www.berkeleycityballet.org. The company then moves on to Ohlone College in Fremont the following week, Dec. 15-16, for four shows, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day.
The sixth season of Mark Morris Dance Group’s “The Hard Nut” also opens this weekend, and continues through next week. Bells will ring and holiday magic will fill the air at Zellerbach Hall on Friday, Dec. 7 until Sunday, Dec.16.
Morris’ work always has a certain lyricism and playfulness inherent in every gesture, turn, leap and bow no matter what the theme. Dance is married to music, and a happy couple they are no matter the occasion, no matter how wicked the evil Rat Queen who has disfigured the young Princess Pirlipat, just one of the many stories within the E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouseking.”
Cal Performances director, Robert Cole, conducts members of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra and the UC Berkeley Women’s Chorale in Tchaikovsky’s complete Nutcracker ballet score. Tickets are $28.00, $38.00
Morris said that the music is the genesis behind everything he does. “Music is
what I like the best,” he said. “And because of that, I make up dances.
I probably wouldn’t do it otherwise. Every dance I do is because of a piece of
music I love and I decide it would make a good dance.”
What do you like most about the Hard Nut, and Berkeley audiences?
“The party is great and the dancing is looking great this year. I like the
Flower number (a waltz) and the Snow number (dancing snowflakes.) It’s a big
project to put together. A lot of people are involved -- 35 dancers, (plus)
musicians and stage crew. It’s pretty frenzied but we did it very smoothly at
the rehearsal, but it’s kind of exhausting. We do it each year (because) it
seems to be a lot of people’s favorite work. I like the scale of it, and
it’s very lively.”
Productions like Morris’ Hard Nut and the BCB Nutcracker production bring
people of all ages and backgrounds together to share a great theatrical experience.
What’s unique about BCB is the fact that many Berkeley Public School students
and alumni dance each year, like Denise Brown’s daughter Sarah Real (12) and
Associate Artistic Director, Andrea Gaudet, a Berkeley High School alumnus.
“Because we come here (a lot) our audiences are very much aware of
what’s going on,” Morris says. “The more people know the more they
can get out of it, so it’s a relationship that has been built up over the
years. And it’s also a big mix of people you know. Which is wonderful –
we a lot of kids who come, and then there’s a school here, music types and San
Franciscans. It’s kind of great.”
When asked why he thought the Nutcracker was such a perennial favorite Morris
admitted that he wasn’t sure, especially since overseas, ‘Nutcracker
fever” is nothing compared to the US, however, he admitted that the
Nutcracker’s a ritual that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere too soon,
even if the Hard Nut will take a short hiatus next year.
“My show isn’t exclusively for kids at all, but it’s a good way to
get young people to start watching the theatre, because it’s fun, it’s
good and you know what’s going to happen.”
Morris says that he grew up listening to music, dancing and singing and that he
believes that all “kids dance,” but that “he continued because
early on he knew that was what he wanted to do, that he enjoyed watching dance to
He says that initially when he first conceived the Hard Nut, he choreographed with
specific company members in mind, however that has changed over the past 12 years of
this production, however, “a few people are in the same parts they were back
Morris keeps his vision fresh he says by remaining interested. “I love what I
do, and if I didn’t love to do it. I wish I would be smart enough to quit.
I’m not exhausted of this at all, new projects, listening to music and
traveling, performing. It’s a great job.”
Nutcracker magic’s in the air this weekend, so why not sprinkle a little on?