Christmas without “The Nutcracker” would be like Easter without the bunny or Thanksgiving without the turkey. It just wouldn’t be the same.
And this year, more than enough troupes are continuing the tradition in San Diego.
“The Nutcracker,” the enduring Christmas ballet of a little girl’s toy that comes to life, will be presented by ballet companies from Poway to San Diego this season in live performances beginning Sunday and running through Dec. 23. An animated version also is playing at movie theaters throughout the county.
The ballet, based on a fairy tale by German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, was first produced by the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1892 in St. Petersburg, which is now Leningrad. The two-act ballet, scored by Peter Tchaikovsky, gained national prominence in the United States through elaborate full-scale productions choreographed by William Christensen for the San Francisco Ballet in 1944, and by George Balanchine for the New York Ballet in 1954.
San Diego’s ballet productions, which use children and adult dancers, present the traditional tale of Clara, the child who receives a nutcracker from a magician at a Christmas party. Late at night after the guests have gone, she returns to look at her present and the nutcracker comes to life.
After she helps the nutcracker lead the toy soldiers to victory against an invasion of mice, the nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince. Clara is whisked away by the Nutcracker Prince through dancing snowflakes to the Kingdom of Sweets, where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“The Nutcracker Prince,” an animated movie playing in area theaters, is a Canadian feature that incorporates more of Hoffmann’s original story into the script and includes some elements from Tchaikovsky’s ballet.
A sampling of the live productions include:
* The California Ballet opens its 20th annual production of “The Nutcracker” with performances at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 8, 9. It will also perform with a live orchestra at the San Diego Civic Theatre Dec. 14-23. The corps of 120 children and adults are cast in 165 parts. Guest artists include Victor Yeremenko, a premier dancer with the Kiev Opera Ballet and Mark Lanham, formerly principal dancer with Canada’s Royal Winnepeg Ballet and Ballet West.
Performances are at 2:30 and 8 p.m., Dec. 8, 9 at Poway. Performances at the civic theater are at 8 p.m., Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 19-22. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m., Dec. 15-16 and Dec. 20-23.
The cast will host Sugar Plum parties for photographs, refreshments and a visit by Santa at the matinee performances in Poway and San Diego. For ticket information, call 278-TIXS or the California Ballet Centre, 560-6741.
* The Mira Mesa Ballet opens its run at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts. The performance, which showcases dancers 3 years old to adult, will also be staged at the Horizon Christian School in Clairemont at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 7, and 3 p.m., Dec. 8. General admission tickets are $8 at the Poway Center and $5 in Clairemont. For information, call 536-1339.
* A Lemon Grove Arts Complex production with a cast of more than 70 dancers will be mounted Dec. 8, 9 at the O’Farrell Theatre in San Diego. Performances are scheduled at 2 and 8 p.m., Dec. 8 and 2 p.m., Dec. 9. General admission tickets are $10. Call 469-7020 for information.
* The West Coast Ballet Theatre Youth Company and its cast of nearly 100 dancers will present its Nutcracker at the Parker Auditorium in La Jolla on Dec. 15, 16. Performances are at 2 and 7 p.m. General admission tickets cost $10. For information, call 456-0150.
* The American Ballet Ensemble and the International Orchestra from US International University will perform “The Nutcracker” at the East County Performing Arts Center Dec. 20-23. Performances are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21, 22; and 2 p.m. Dec. 23. Nutcracker parties for children, featuring the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Mouse King, follow the matinees. General admission tickets are $20 and $15. Call 440-2277 for information.