Hip Hop to Hans Christian Andersen: Seven Alternatives to the Traditional "Nutcracker"

Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

The Christmas BalletSmuin Ballet

November 17-December 24

What do you do when your city already offers several Nutcrackers?

For Smuin Ballet, the answer was to create an entirely different Yuletide production—The Christmas Ballet. Debuted in 1995, the show features a variety of original choreography in ballet, tap, jazz and other styles performed to holiday music.

"With a classical first act and a pop second act, it has become a tradition for many families," says artistic director Celia Fushille. "The program changes every year, with new songs added and old favorites returning. Smuin now performs it in four cities across the Bay Area every holiday season."

Nigel Tau and Connie Flachs rehearse "A Christmas Carol" with Brian Enos. Photo Scott Rasmussen, Courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet.

A Christmas Carol—Grand Rapids Ballet

December 22-23

Just as soon as The Nutcracker wraps up at Grand Rapids Ballet, the company will debut a new, full-length story ballet based on Charles Dickens's classic tale A Christmas Carol.

Why back-to-back holiday ballets?

"The company's Nutcracker is a large production and they are looking for something that can be toured more easily and performed on smaller stages," explains Brian Enos, the production's choreographer and artistic director of The Big Muddy Dance Company.

Enos says his choreography will feature a blend of classical and contemporary dance and touch on some of the darker humor in the story. The production's score will feature music by Tchaikovsky—mostly from his string quartets—arranged by Brendan Hollins.

Dylan Santos and Ingrid Silva in "The Brooklyn Nutcracker." Photo by Julie Lemberger, Courtesy Brooklyn Ballet.

The Brooklyn NutcrackerBrooklyn Ballet

December 7-16

For a borough-inspired NYC Nutcracker, get a ticket to Brooklyn Ballet's The Brooklyn Nutcracker.

Artistic director Lynn Parkerson says she loves the many traditional versions of The Nutcracker but wanted to create a production that reflected the diversity of Brooklyn and the company dancers' varied training in different styles.

The Brooklyn Nutcracker, which debuted last year, blends ballet, hip hop, tap, modern and world dance with scenes that tap into the history of Brooklyn and costumes enhanced with motion-sensor LED lights.

Hip Hoppin' Rats, Rappin' Sugarplum Fairy and Philly Cheesesteak Nerd in "Philly Nutt-Crak Up." Photo by Bill Hebert, Courtesy ContempraDANCE Theatre.

Philly Nutt-Crak Up—ContempraDANCE Theatre

December 15-17

For another Nutcracker with local flavor—and a whole lot of zaniness—check out ContempraDance Theatre's Philly Nutt-Crak Up, which has been making audiences laugh for over 10 seasons.

"I created this show because there was nothing in the area other than the traditional Nutcracker," says artistic director Gail Vartanian. "I wanted to blend various genres of dance with a Philly flair and make it viewable for everyone."

The cast of characters includes the Rappin' Sugarplum Fairy, Hip Hoppin' Rats, City Hall Dolls, Captain Philadelphia, Liberty Belle-Anne and the Philly Cheesesteak Nerd.

Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy students rehearse "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Photo by Anne Metcalfe, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy.

'Twas the Night Before ChristmasMilwaukee Ballet School & Academy

November 19

Right before The Nutcracker gets underway at Milwaukee Ballet, the company's school will perform a new production of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

The ballet offers students the opportunity to learn lead roles, and its one-hour runtime provides a holiday ballet option for children who might be too young to sit through The Nutcracker.

"Our students are invited to audition for the company's Nutcracker, but there are only so many roles available and they are all in the ensemble," says Rolando Yanes, director of the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy. "In 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, students learn to create characters and dance as principals or soloists. This process mirrors company rehearsals and prepares them for experiences further down the road."

The Little Match GirlArthur Pita, Sadler's Wells

December 13-24

Arthur Pita's reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen's tale of a doomed young match seller has been lighting up stages since 2013 with its blend of dance, theater, Italian text and songs.

This somber story of injustice and human cruelty is about as different from The Nutcracker as you could find in holiday show, but the production includes gorgeous visuals, moments of humor and, ultimately, a message of hope and love—which never fails to resonate at this time of year.

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Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

Lee with Brooklyn Mack in the "Le Corsaire" pas de deux. Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy TWB.

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Photo by Matthew Murphy

We do a lot of fast frappé combinations at barre, but my footwork is still a mess. Do you have any tips? —Anna

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Audition Advice
Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.

Have you ever attended an audition and wished that you knew what the director was looking for? We've rounded up some of our favorite quotes from our Director's Notes column over the past few years to give you a deeper glimpse into the minds of 10 artistic directors.

Ashley Wheater, Joffrey Ballet

"I want to develop and nurture artists," says Wheater, seeking "people who are not afraid to be expressive, and understand all the layers that go into making a work above and beyond the steps."

Ingrid Lorentzen, Norwegian National Ballet

"I like athletic classical dancers, with very strong footwork and articulation," Lorentzen says. "But it's also about the feeling I get from them, who I think can adapt to the Norwegian way."

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Photo via Instagram.

When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

Today, McRae shares videos of his workouts on social media (where he has approximately 150,000 Instagram followers). They are often shot in his dressing room, with a chair as the only prop while he does développés from an arched handstand, for instance—a feat of upper-body strength and flexibility.

"I think people are genuinely intrigued and interested in what we do: I get lovely comments offering suggestions to alter the exercise."

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.

Ballet Stars
Photo via @abtofficial on Instagram.

Though according to our calendars today is the first day of spring, it feels like anything but. That's why we've been extra jealous watching American Ballet Theatre dancers' Instagram posts from their tour to Singapore. From swimming in rooftop pools to hiking with monkeys to jet-lag influenced shenanigans (oh, and dancing Swan Lake), their photos are making us believe that warm weather really is on its way. We rounded up some of our favorite shots from the first half of ABT's Asian tour; they'll spend this week in Hong Kong dancing Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. Keep the photos coming, ABT!

Rather than cling onto the railing in fear (like we would have), Isabella Boylston stepped gracefully into the highest pool in the world with a low arabesque.

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Richmond Ballet dancers in "An Open Later..." by Matthew Frain. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

What's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

The Bolshoi Premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina

Last July Hamburg Ballet presented the world premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina, a modern adaptation on Leo Tolstoy's famous novel. Hamburg Ballet coproduced the full-length ballet with the National Ballet of Canada and the Bolshoi, the latter of which will premiere the work March 23 (NBoC will have its premiere in November). The production will feature Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova in the title role. This is especially fitting as Neumeier's initial inspiration for the ballet came from Zakharova while they were working together on his Lady of the Camellias. The following video delves into what makes this production stand out.

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Ballet Careers
Beijing Dance Academy students Pei Yu Meng and Wang Yuzhiwan in rehearsal. Photo Courtesy BDA.

In one of 60 spacious dance studios at the Beijing Dance Academy, Pei Yu Meng practices a tricky step from Jorma Elo's Over Glow. She's standing among other students, but they all work alone, with the help of teachers calling out corrections from the front of the room. On top of her strong classical foundation and clean balletic lines, Pei Yu's slithery coordination and laser-sharp focus give her dancing a polished gleam. Once she's mastered the pirouette she's been struggling with, she repeats the step over and over until the clock reaches 12 pm for lunch. Here, every moment is a chance to approach perfection.

Pei Yu came to the school at age 10 from Hebei, a province near Beijing. Now 20, and in her third year of BDA's professional program, she is an example of a new kind of Chinese ballet student. Founded in 1954 by the country's communist government, BDA is a fully state-funded professional training school with close to 3,000 students and 275 full-time teachers over four departments (ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance and musical theater). It offers degrees in performance, choreography and more. BDA's ballet program has long been known for fostering pristine Russian-style talent. But since 2011, the school has made major efforts to broaden ballet students' knowledge of Chinese dance traditions and the works of Western contemporary ballet choreographers. Pointe went inside this prestigious academy to see how BDA trains its dancers.

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