The biggest Nutcracker news this year is that the crowded season is extending clear past Christmas.
Ballet Tucson, the city's only professional company, normally stages its classic Victorian version in mid-December. But this year, pushed out of Centennial Hall by the UA budget crisis, Ballet Tucson has decamped downtown to the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall, where the only dates available were Christmas Eve and Dec. 26 and 27.
"We liked Centennial Hall," says artistic director Mary-Beth Cabana, "but it's good to shake things up. That can be a positive thing."
The UA commandeered Centennial as a classroom for its enormous new 1,200-student classes. With the venerable theater otherwise engaged during the school week, UApresents arts performances have been pushed to the weekends, while children's matinees have been nearly eliminated, and local groups like Ballet Tucson have been shown the door.
"This is another fallout from the classes," acknowledges Natalie Bohnet, executive director of UApresents. Ballet Tucson "needs a whole week in there to rehearse. We are very sad about that. Children and the arts are suffering."
Cabana says the loss of the hall hurts, especially for "community-based groups that have been solid renters." Still, she's hoping audiences will like the holiday-weekend time slot. When she was dancing professionally, the most popular performances were after Christmas itself, she says, when everyone's holiday activities had waned. And the Music Hall could be an attraction in itself.
"People enjoy going downtown. It might be a nice change for people," she says.
Dancing in the Streets, Arizona, a newish southside dance company, is also performing in the post-Christmas time slot. Its second Baile de los Cascanueces will be Dec. 26 and 27 at Pima Community College.
The original Nutcracker, choreographed by Marius Petipa, debuted in St. Petersburg in 1892, but in its multiple mutations—from the new Mexican-accented Baile to Tucson Regional Ballet's Southwest Nutcracker—the ballet continues to be a staple of the American Christmas. Tucson's Nutcracker marathon began just after Thanksgiving this year, with last weekend's concert by Arizona Dance Theatre.
New to the mix this year are a filmed Nutcracker to be screened at the Loft as part of the movie theater's High Art in High Def series, and a touring band of Russians from the Moscow Ballet, staging one of those if-this-is-Monday-it-must-be-Tucson tours.
Ballet Tucson and Tucson Regional Ballet, purveyors of the biggest local productions, have long hired musicians to play the Tchaikovsky score live. Now the ambitious Dancing in the Streets joins the live-music ranks.
Ballet Continental in Sahuarita dedicates this year's Nutcracker Ballet to George Zoritch, who served as a mentor to the company, says artistic director Lisa Baker DiGiacomo. (See the sidebar.) The last ballet concert Zoritch saw was the troupe's September season opener, La Sylphide and excerpts from Swan Lake.
Now in its 24th year, the company stages DiGiacomo's "classic and traditional" Nutcracker with 70 dancers. Lindsey Cain, Darby Downs, Brittani Johnson, Emily VanWagenen and Rebecca Weis take the female leads, and guest artists Nicholas McLain and Sam Gay alternate as the Snow King, Prince and Cavalier.
Show times are 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 4, and Saturday, Dec. 5; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 6, at Sahuarita Auditorium, 350 W. Sahuarita Road, at Interstate 19. Advance tickets are $15 general, $12 for seniors, and $8 for students and children 12 and younger; they're $2 more at the door; 326-7887.
Tucson Regional Ballet delivers its popular A Southwest Nutcracker with the help of musicians from the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lawrence Golan. Set in 1880s Tucson, the ballet glitters with copper queens and coyotes, a Maria instead of a Clara, and a Tío Diego instead of a Drosselmeyer.
Special guest star is Brittany DeGrofft. "We are very proud of our Brittany," says managing director Linda Walker. A Tucson native who trained with Walker and appeared in many of its Nutcracker performances, DeGrofft is now a pro dancer with American Ballet Theatre II. She returns to her childhood company to dance the Prickly Pear Fairy with Jared Matthews, a solo artist with ABT.
Zoritch also advised Tucson Regional, says Walker, and several years ago was so enthralled by DeGrofft's dancing that he sent her flowers.
Curtain is at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 12, and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $22 to $34, at 885-0862 or www.tucsonregionalballet.org; at the TCC box office, 791-4836; or www.ticketmaster.com, (800) 745-3000.
The Loft Cinema enters the fray with the digital Kirov's Nutcracker, shot in 2007 at St. Petersburg's legendary Mariinsky Theater, where the first Nutcracker was staged. Kirov Ballet's Irina Golub dances Masha (what the Russians call Clara), and Leonid Sarafanov is the Prince. Screenings of the 90-minute film are at noon, Saturday, Dec. 12, and Saturday, Dec. 19. Admission is $10 for Loft members and $15 general; 322-5638.
Up in Phoenix, Ballet Arizona recently announced the addition of the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, courtesy of some last-minute major donations. (The symphony will be replaced by taped music on Dec. 26 and 27.) Artistic director Ib Andersen debuted his sumptuous Nutcracker in 2006. It's worth the trip, if you can stand the drive. There will be 21 performances, with the opener at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 11, and the closer at 5 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 27. No shows Christmas Day. At Symphony Hall, 225 E. Adams St., in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $12 to $119; (602) 381-1096 or www.ticketmaster.com.
Ballet Rincon, a local children's studio, stages its sixth Nutcracker at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 18, and 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 19, at Santa Rita High School Auditorium, 3951 S. Pantano Road. Tickets are $8 to $14; 574-3040.
A Time to Dance, another Tucson studio, has 75 dancers ranging in age from 4 to 50-plus. Jerrica Stewart returns as Clara, and Ashley Childs reprises Sugar Plum. Artistic director Dee Dee Doell studied with Zoritch at the UA. Concerts are at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 18, and 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 19, at Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd.; $8 advance, $10 at door; 272-3400.
A troupe of traveling Russians descends on the Fox Tucson Theatre for one performance of the Great Russian Nutcracker. Moscow Ballet artists Ekaterina Bortykova and Akzhol Mussakhanov dance Masha and the Prince. Hand-painted backdrops and life-size dancing puppets dress up the narrow Fox stage. A note of caution: These touring dancers started their grueling slog through the West before Thanksgiving, and they've turned in nearly a performance a day ever since. 7:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 21, Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.; $27.50 to $67.50; 547-3040 or www.nutcracker.com.
Ballet Tucson tries the holiday weekend on for size. A classic wintry Nutcracker, complete with falling snow and richly colored velvet costumes, the town's biggest production deploys 130 dancers. Thirty of those are adult pros and apprentices, and 100 are kids trained in the Ballet Arts studio. Married stars Jenna Johnson and Daniel Precup alternate the lead roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier with Meredith Dulaney and Stuart Lauer. Each of the four performances gets its own Clara: Zoe Tsurusaki and Danielle James return from last year, while Chandi McCright and Kaylene Garcia are new. The engaging César Rubio debuts a comical Drosselmeyer.
Maestro Cal Stewart Kellogg leads the Ballet Tucson Orchestra, its musicians plucked from the Arizona Opera and other orchestras. Curtain is at 3 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 24; 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 26; and 1 and 5 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 27. TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.; $27 to $55; students/children/seniors $22 to $42; 691-4266; ticketmaster.com or (800) 745-3000.
Dancing in the Streets' Baile de los Cascanueces tells the "traditional story, in two acts," co-artistic director Soleste Lupu says, but her husband, co-artistic director Joseph Rodgers, "choreographs with a sense of humor." Volunteer musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Tucson provide live music. The dancers, ages 3 to adult, study at the company's southside studios, and Rodgers and Lupu pride themselves on teaching the art of ballet to some of Tucson's most impoverished kids.
Both are Tucson natives who returned home to found the company, Rodgers after a successful ballet career with Eliot Feld, Milwaukee Ballet and others. Zoritch "became a mentor to Joey," Lupu says, when he was a young boy coming out of Tucson's southside. The Russian taught him at the UA and drove him to auditions, telling him "you need to go dance." Performances are 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 26, and Sunday, Dec. 27, at Pima Community College West Center for the Arts Proscenium Theater, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Tickets are $10 in advance, or $12 at the door; kids 5 and under get in free; 206-6986.