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Nutcracked Pueblo 

'Tis the season for a bunch of 'Nutcracker' performances

"We love the Nutcracker in Tucson," says Jennifer Neuser, artistic director of the eastside Ballet Rincon.

Truer words were never spoken. The Nutcracked Pueblo this year boasts no fewer than seven versions of the cherished Christmas ballet, a frothy fantasy with gingerbread, angelic tots, twirling candy canes—and tour-de-force ballet moves.

Why is our desert city so nuts about a Germanic tale?

"Everybody wants to see it," Neuser opines. "And we don't have snow here." Tucsonans longing for snow love to see those drifting snowflakes onstage, danced by lovely young women in white.

Despite hard economic times, valiant companies are toy-soldiering on. The artistic directors are husbanding their resources, cutting costs by sewing up only a few new costumes this year, and merely tweaking the rest.

But quite a few are importing guest dancers, and Ballet Tucson pays its own professional dancers. Tucson Regional Ballet, creator of A Southwest Nutcracker, set in 1880s Tucson, has managed to invest in a large new backdrop for Act 2. And while most troupes are relying on taped music, Tucson Regional will have the Tucson Symphony Orchestra perform the Tchaikovsky score live. The young company Dancing in the Streets Arizona taps the volunteer musicians of Civic Orchestra of Tucson to play for its Spanish-inflected El Cascanueces.

Herewith are the Nutcrackers of the Dancing Pueblo—and thereabouts—in chronological order.

Week One

Ballet Continental artistic director and choreographer Lisa Baker DiGiacomo studied and danced with the late Russian dancer George Zoritch, so she can trace her style back to the classical Russian. This year, staging her 26th traditional Nutcracker ballet, "I feel lucky," she says.

Her 25 company dancers join forces with a half-dozen guest dancers and kids from her school to fill the Nutcracker stage with a cast of 68. Andrea Pardi and Brittani Johnson share the plum part of Sugar Plum. Music is recorded.

Ballet Continental dances The Nutcracker at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 2, and Saturday, Dec. 3; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 4, at Sahuarita Auditorium, 350 W. Sahuarita Road, in Sahuarita. Advance tickets are $15 adults; $8 seniors, students and children under 12; available at Young Artists' Community Ballet Academy of Dance, 1100 White House Canyon Road, and at retail outlets in Green Valley and Sahuarita. Tickets are $2 more at the door; 326-7887.

Week Two

Linda Walker, managing director of Tucson Regional Ballet, says she's "so blessed" to have a new backdrop for A Southwest Nutcracker. Instead of the Land of Sweets depicted in Act 2 of classical versions, her new scene is a Painted Desert Dream, lush with poppies, cacti, mountains and a twilight sky.

"It's huge," Walker exults. "It goes over the whole back of the stage."

A Southwest Nutcracker, known for its charming copper queens and Native American princesses, has former Joffrey dancers Michael Levine and Maia Wilkins guest-starring as the Caballero and Prickly Pear Fairy. The UA's Barton Cowperthwaite and Will Dingeldein take on the Nutcracker and Tío Diego, elsewhere known as Drosselmeyer. High school student Forest Berger dances Tumbleweeds, replacing the marvelous Hseth Burch, who has decamped to Cirque du Soleil. Lindsey Felix and Katherine Smith alternate as Maria, aka Clara. From coyote kids to adult pros, the show has some 95 dancers performing to Tchaikovsky live.

Tucson Regional Ballet stages A Southwest Nutcracker at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 10; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.; the Tucson Symphony Orchestra performs. Tickets are $35 and $38 for adults; $23 and $26 for children, students, military, seniors and groups of 10 or more; available at TCC box office; through Tucson Regional Ballet, at 885-0862 or www.tucsonregionalballet.org for a $4 fee for the total order; or through Ticket-master at (800) 745-3000 or ticketmaster.com with significant fees.

Up in Phoenix, Ballet Arizona is still basking in the rave review penned by The New York Times' Alastair Macaulay last year. Traveling America on an all-Nutcracker tour, Macaulay wrote, "To my happy surprise, this production is—with Ballet West's—one of the best discoveries of my Nutcracker marathon." Sumptuously choreographed by the company's Ib Andersen and beautifully danced, this lavish production is worth the drive up Interstate 10. The Phoenix Symphony plays live.

Ballet Arizona gives 18 performances of The Nutcracker, beginning at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9, and ending at 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 24, at Symphony Hall, 72 N. Second St., in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $17 to $121, with discounts for students, kids 12 and younger, seniors 65 and older, full-time K-12 teachers, active military and families buying four or more tickets. Available through Ballet Arizona at (602) 381-1096 or, for a hefty fee, through Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000 or ticketmaster.com/baz.

Week Three

Last year, Ballet Rincon sold out two performances in the 593-seat Vail Theatre of the Arts. This year, with 140 dancers in the cast, Jennifer Neuser has added a third showing. "We're way out here on the southwest side," she explains, "the only classical ballet school in this part of town." Christopher Compton guests as Drosselmeyer. UA student Mark Nichols dances the Cavalier to Brianna McLaughlin's Sugar Plum Fairy. Ballet Rincon dancer McLaughlin is also the Snow Queen. Neuser and Erika Colombi share choreography credit. Music is taped.

Ballet Rincon performs The Nutcracker at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17, at Vail Theatre of the Arts, 10701 E. Mary Ann Cleveland Way. Tickets are $10 and $14 adults; $8 and $12 seniors 55 and older, and children 11 and younger. Tickets sold at the door or through Dec. 12 at Ballet Rincon studio, 10544 E. Seven Generations Way, No. 200, 574-2804; www.ballet-rincon.com.

A Time to Dance studio tackles its 11th traditional Nutcracker. Artistic director Dee Dee Doell boasts of a new Christmas tree—the one that magically grows at the end of Act 1. "And we have new soldier costumes. They get quite a beating!" The cast of 40 includes Parker Schiltz, a 14-year-old who has danced at the midtown studio since age 3, as Clara. Jerrica Stewart reprises Sugar Plum, partnered by 25-year-old guest dancer Scott O'Brien. Doell herself dances Drosselmeyer—in a dress. Music is taped.

A Time to Dance's Nutcracker is at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16; and 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17, at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $8 in advance at 272-3400; $10 at the door.

The UA School of Dance makes a strong showing in the Arizona Dance Theatre Nutcracker. Five UA dancers take on lead roles: Cole Vernon (Spanish Cavalier and Dew Drop Prince); Trevor Kwart (Flower Cavalier and Dew Drop Prince); Tyler Kram (Nutcracker Prince and Flower Cavalier); and Michelle Presler and Molly Ahler alternate as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Choreographed by artistic director Kandis Meinel, the 60-dancer production also enlists kids from Meinel's studio, Creative Dance Arts. Norina Young and Rachel Van Horn share the part of Clara. Music is taped.

Arizona Dance Theatre's Nutcracker is at 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18, at Pima College Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road; 206-6986. Tickets are $25 adults; $15 ages 17 and younger, available at the box office, at the door or at Creative Dance Arts studio, 5741 N. Oracle Road, 887-5658.

Tucson Regional Ballet dancers dance a few more pas de deux in the TSO Pops! Holiday Spectacular, performing excerpts from A Southwest Nutcracker. The symphony concert also features mariachis and a carol sing, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18, at Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $25 to $104; 882-8585; www.tucsonsymphony.org.

The southside studio Dancing in the Streets Arizona has been in business only since 2008 and is already on its fourth El Cascanueces, known elsewhere as The Nutcracker. Performed by a cast of kids and adults 150 strong, the production is the traditional full-length ballet, with "some surprises sprinkled throughout," says the studio's Soleste Lupu, who co-choreographed, along with Joseph Rodgers and guest choreographer Karen Toney Ramackers. Emily Rodgers, a 2011 dance graduate of Point Park College, guest stars as Sugar Plum Fairy, partnered by Mariano Albano, formerly of Louisville Ballet. The studio's Karina Goodman-Eberlein, age 9, is Clara. The Civic Orchestra of Tucson plays live.

Dancing in the Streets Arizona dances El Cascanueces at 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18, at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.; 547-3040. Tickets are $13 and $16, plus fees, at www.foxtucsontheatre.org. "Gold Level" tickets for $50 get you a preconcert lunch and musical entertainment; 298-7738; www.ditsaz.org.

Week Four

Moscow Ballet arrives in Tucson after a two-month slog through the West and performs the Great Russian Nutcracker twice in one day. Local kids join the 40 Russian pros onstage. Music is taped. The shows are at 4 and 8 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 22, at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.; 547-3040. Tickets are $27.50 to $102, plus significant fees at www.foxtucsontheatre.org. For group rates for 10 or more, call (800) 320-1733.

Ballet Tucson, in its 26th season, gets the final slot, dancing its fourth and final Nutcracker concert on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. "We're the last ones up right before Christmas," artistic director Mary Beth Cabana notes with satisfaction. "People want to see it before the holiday."

Cabana says the company has tweaked a few of the costumes worn in its traditional Victorian Nutcracker, but she's most excited about her newest dancers. "We have a lot of freshness, a lot of new faces," she says.

Longtime prima ballerina Jenna Johnson will alternate Sugar Plum Fairy with Megan Terry, and Stuart Lauer dances Cavalier. Daniel Precup, the Cavalier in Christmases past, switches to Drosselmeyer. Hadley Jalbert and Terry alternate as the Snow Queen, partnered by Benjamin Tucker as Snow King. Between the 30 paid members of the company and students from Ballet Arts school, 100 dancers take the stage to dance the beloved story. Music is taped.

Ballet Tucson presents The Nutcracker at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 22; 3 and 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 23; and 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 24, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.; 791-4101. Regular tickets are $25 to $54; children, students and seniors get in for $20 to $44; groups $15 to $27; available at the box office or through Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000 or ticketmaster.com for an additional fee.

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