After nearly three decades at Miami City Ballet, George Balanchine's The Nutcracker demanded a makeover. Costumes and scenery, as artistic director Lourdes Lopez admits, were faded and frayed. To do justice to such a beloved ballet, she has partnered with The Music Center for a new production to debut in Los Angeles this December before brightening South Florida theaters.

Lopez entrusted husband-and-wife artistic team Isabel and Ruben Toledo with bringing The Nutcracker into high definition, drawn by both their sense of classicism and innovative creativity. The Cuban-American couple may work in different media—Isabel is a fashion designer, Ruben as a visual artist—yet as collaborators they flourish in stage work.


The Nutcracker, Isabel discovered, "is multilayered with visual symbols—and peels back like an onion. Each element impacts the entire composition." Her Sugarplum Fairy's silhouette retains a decorous formality with dashes of sparkle. As the designer believes, "fabric brings to the stage yet another performer—the dance of textile."

Scenic impact required meticulous research. Ruben relished not just the history of the ballet but also the qualities of a childhood dream. His favorite part? "The snow scene," he discloses. "Nature can be so awe-inspiring."


Miami inspired Ruben with its "light reflected off the magnificent ocean, the boomerang clouds mounting like palaces." In his vision, candy land is "a tropical paradise" where palm trees rise like confections in a pastry shop.

Enthused by this creative partnership as well as MCB's 2016 reimagining of Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream in an underwater setting, Lopez promises, "This production will be riveting."

Larke Johnson in rehearsal. Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

Marie and Franz have a new guest at their Christmas Eve party this year. Emma Lookatch and Larke Johnson, both dancers in the Adaptive Dance Program at Joffrey Academy of Dance: Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, are alternating in the new role of Worker Girl. It is a permanent part created specifically for students with disabilities in Christopher Wheeldon's version of The Nutcracker at The Joffrey Ballet.

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Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy

When you're looking for a ballet program to take you to the next level, there are a lot of factors to consider. While it's tempting to look for the biggest name that will accept you, the savvy dancer knows that successful training has more to do with the attention and opportunities you'll get.

We put together a few of the most important things for dancers to look for in a summer or year-round training program, with the help of the experts at Colorado Ballet Academy:

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Ballet Training
Ballet Austin Academy students practice priouette en dehors. Annie Marie Bloodgood, Courtesy Ballet Austin.

Michelle Martin, associate artistic director of Ballet Austin, says that pirouettes en dehors from fourth position allongé are full of "traps" for dancers. Whether you trained with a straight back leg or have never tried it before, Martin's analytical breakdown will help you master this basic but dazzling turn.

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Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy US Prix de Ballet

The US Prix de Ballet is taking an unconventional approach to the ballet competition—by putting the competitors' health first. After a successful first year in 2018, the Prix is returning to San Diego, CA this February with an even more comprehensive lineup of wellness workshops and master classes, in addition, of course, to the high-level competition.

Though the talent is top-notch, the environment is friendly, says HARID Conservatory faculty member Victoria Schneider, who serves on US Prix de Ballet's elite panel of judges. "The wellbeing of the dancer is the main focus," says Schneider, who awarded three scholarships to HARID at last year's competition.

US Prix de Ballet was born after its founders traveled to the Japan Grand Prix International Ballet Competition in 2016. "The company ran every aspect of the competition with professionalism, dignity, honor and precision," says founder Neisha Hernandez. "We knew we wanted this level of experience for America."

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