Diana Yohe and Joseph Parr in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Fireside Nutcracker, a new original production available on YouTube from December 17–31.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy PBT

"Nutcracker" 2020: The Creative Ways Schools and Companies Are Keeping the Holiday Tradition Alive

As COVID-19 lockdowns, restrictions and mandates have forced ballet companies to alter their seasons, many have transformed the ways they bring performances to their audiences. The time-honored Nutcracker is no exception. While some companies, like Orlando Ballet, Ballet San Antonio, Oklahoma City Ballet and Alabama Ballet continue to perform the beloved ballet in theaters (albeit shortened versions adjusted for social distancing), others have had to get especially creative. From filmed virtual productions to drive-in nights to interactive tea parties, we love seeing these new nutty twists on the holiday classic! Read on to see how ballet companies and schools across the country are keeping the Nutcracker tradition alive this year.

"Nutcracker" Online

Without the ability to perform live, the vast majority of companies are engaging with audiences virtually. For example, Ballet Memphis, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Island Moving Company and Avant Chamber Ballet have redesigned their Nutcracker for the camera, creating original, made-for-film versions that viewers can watch from the comfort of their living rooms. These films showcase performances onstage or even in site-specific locations, like historic Victorian homes or outdoor parks, adding an extra-special twist to the holiday tradition.

Other companies, like Richmond Ballet, State Street Ballet, Eugene Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Texas Ballet Theatre, Ballet Met and Pennsylvania Ballet (and so many more!) have chosen to share recordings of past live performances. Some streaming options are on-demand; others are exclusive to a one-view experience but may include bonus material, like behind-the-scenes footage, family packages, extended viewing periods and virtual activities.

Countless schools and community productions are showcasing their Nutcrackers through online streaming and webcast events, too. For example, Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy is streaming a new staged production, with socially distanced choreography and digital sets to allow more space onstage. Evergreen City Ballet of Renton, Washington, is presenting Nutcracker Suites, a series of on-demand docu-dance films celebrating the ballet's story and history and featuring three different casts of students. And Magic City Nutcracker, a nonprofit organization in Alabama, has cast 88 dancers from 18 different area schools for its online Nutcracker production, filmed at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

"Nutcracker" Goes Interactive

If you've ever wanted to meet with your favorite Nutcracker characters, now could be your chance! The Sugarplum Fairy gets tech-savvy as companies offer virtual tea parties, meet-and-greets, craft activities, dance lessons and more. This season, The Washington Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet are all offering opportunities for audience members to engage with their favorite Nutcracker characters via Zoom and other platforms, in true 2020 holiday spirit. Kansas City Ballet hosted its virtual Dance-A-Story: The Nutcracker workshop for children ages 2 through 7, combining live reading, music, props, costume show-and-tells and dancing.

"Nutcracker" Outdoors and On Site

Who says The Nutcracker needs to stay inside the theater? Earlier this month, The Dallas Conservatory performed a 45-minute version of its production outdoors at Klyde Warren Park. Miami City Ballet is also taking advantage of its sunny weather with 14 performances of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker in Miami's Doral Park. Socially distanced seating and other safety protocols will be enforced.

Other companies have opted for site specific performances, dancing through flower gardens and inside large mansions reminiscent of the famous Stahlbaum abode. Ballet des Amériques has set its immersive production of The Nutcracker: Drosselmeyer's Workshop at the historical Wainwright House in Rye, New York. Audiences are limited to very small groups and are required to wear masks for safety precautions. Similarly, BalletCollective's Nutcracker at Wethersfield is staged both inside the Wethersfield Estate and around the grounds.

"Nutcracker" at the Drive-In

Some companies have taken their Nutcracker to the drive-in, where viewers can tune in on their FM radios and watch from the safety of their cars. City Ballet of San Diego, for instance, is revving up for live outdoor performances at the Del Mar Fairgrounds this weekend. Others, like Atlanta Ballet (which is also streaming its Nutcracker on-demand) and Presidio Dance Theatre, offered a traditional drive-in movie screening of a previous year's performance.

Ballet Arkansas is taking a drive-by approach with its 2020 Winter Wonderland, teaming up with the Arkansas Arts Center to transform Little Rock's Main Street into an immersive Nutcracker experience. Audiences can drive through a series of decorated outdoor scenes as company dancers perform excerpts from its annual production, bringing the stage to the streets of Little Rock.

"Nutcracker" on TV

Many of us already planned to watch the usual holiday television specials, but this year you might be able to catch your local Nutcracker on TV, too! Colorado Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theatre, Nashville Ballet, Boston Ballet, Ballet Memphis and Ballet West, have partnered with their local broadcasting stations to air their productions. Dance lovers can check their TV listings (some Nutcrackers have multiple air dates) and enjoy the show at home for free.

Of course, these are just a few examples of how the ballet community has successfully adjusted this holiday season. How is your local school or company keeping the Nutcracker magic alive this year? Let us know in the comments—we'd love to hear!

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