The Search for America’s Favorite Nutcracker is On

San Francisco Ballet dancers bloom in Waltz of the Flowers. Photo by Erik Tomasson courtesy of KQED.

It’s that time of year: Halls are decked, cider is spiced, gifts—if you don’t shop last minute like I do—are wrapped and Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” is serenading audiences in theaters across the nation. We all have a soft spot for our favorite Nutcracker production. This year, Goldstar—the company that sells discounted tickets to entertainment events across the U.S.—is hosting its ninth annual National Nutcracker Award. The nominated productions range from Balanchine’s classic to urban adaptations and more, with 65 nominees in over 55 cities.

The winning show, chosen by Goldstar members (membership is free), will earn the title of America’s Best-Loved Nutcracker, a commemorative figurine called “The Nutty” and a $2,500 cash reward to be used towards the winning organization’s educational programs.

The winner will be announced on December 21. Can you spot your favorite Nutcracker in the list of nominees below? Happy Nutcracking!

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

 

The Nutty in all its golden glory.

 

Arizona

Ballet Arizona’s The Nutcracker at Phoenix Symphony Hall

California

  • Inland Empire

    • The Ballet Studio's The Nutcracker at Old Town Temecula Community Theater
    • Inland Pacific Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside

  • Los Angeles

    • Long Beach Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center
    • Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at the Wiltern
    • The Red Chair Children's Production Company’s The Nutcracker at the Alex Theatre in Glendale
    • Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
    • Marat Daukayev Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker at Luckman Fine Arts Complex
    • Inland Pacific Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Arcadia Performing Arts Center and at Claremont’s Bridges Auditorium
    • Westside Ballet’s The Nutcracker at The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center
    • South Bay Ballet’s The Nutcracker at El Camino College Center for the Arts in Torrance

  • Oakland

    • Alameda Civic Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Kofman Theatre in Alameda
    • Berkeley Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker at Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley
    • Contra Costa Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek

  • Orange County

    • Anaheim Ballet's The Nutcracker at City National Grove of Anaheim
    • Coast City Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Huntington Beach Historical Theater
    • Sunrise Ballet's The Nutcracker at Anaheim’s Servite Theatre
    • Festival Ballet's The Nutcracker at Irvine Barclay Theatre
    • Orange County Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens
    • Ballet Etudes' The Nutcracker at Huntington Beach High School Historic Auditorium
    • Golden State Dance Foundation and V&T Dance’s The Nutcracker at the Fullerton College Campus Theatre
    • Tustin Dance Center’s The Nutcracker at Alexandra Nechita Center for the Performing Arts in Orange

  • San Diego

    • Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at Jacobs Music Center
    • San Diego Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Jacobs Music Center
    • New West Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker at Poway Center for the Performing Arts
    • California Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker at San Diego Civic Theatre

  • San Francisco

    • San Francisco Youth Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker at Mercy High School Theatre
    • San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker at War Memorial Opera House
    • City Ballet School’s The Nutcracker at Palace of Fine Arts Theatre
    • Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at The Warfield

  • San Jose

    • Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino
    • Silicon Valley Ballet's The Nutcracker at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
    • San Jose Youth Ballet's The Nutcracker at Mexican Heritage Plaza
    • Bay Pointe Ballet’s Nutcracker at San Mateo Performing Arts Center
    • Peninsula Ballet Theatre's The Nutcracker at Fox Theatre in Redwood City

Colorado

Colorado Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver

Belliston Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Gates Concert Hall at Denver’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts

Florida

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at The Fillmore Miami Beach

Miami City Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House

Georgia

Atlanta Ballet's Nutcracker at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre

The Georgia Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Jennie T. Anderson Theatre at Cobb Civic Center in Marietta

Decadancetheatre’s The Hip Hop Nutcracker at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre

Metropolitan Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker at Milton Center Theater in Alpharett

Illinois

Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre

Ballet Chicago’s The Nutcracker at Athenaeum Theatre

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at Chicago’s Rosemont Theatre

The House Theatre of Chicago's The Nutcracker at Chopin Theatre

Piccolo Theatre's Clara & the Nutcracker at Piccolo Theatre in Evanston

State Street Dance Studio's The Fox Valley Nutcracker at Batavia Fine Arts Centre

Chicago Festival Ballet’s The Nutcracker at McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn

Ballet 5:8’s Beyond the Nutcracker at Stagg High School Performing Arts Center in Palos Hills

Maryland

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre

Massachusetts

Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker at Back Bay Events Center’s John Hancock Hall (Boston)

José Mateo Ballet Theatre's The Nutcracker at Strand Theatre in Dorchester and at Cutler Majestic Theatre at Boston’s Emerson College

Dance Prism’s The Nutcracker at Jackson Arts Center in Fall River

Minnesota

Minnesota Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker Fantasy at State Theatre in Minneapolis

Metropolitan Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center in Minnetonka

Decadancetheatre’s The Hip Hop Nutcracker at Saint Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

James Sewell Ballet’s Nutcracker (not so) Suite at The Goodale Theater at The Cowles Center

New Jersey

New Jersey Ballet's The Nutcracker at Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown

Decadancetheatre’s The Hip Hop Nutcracker at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark

New York

Dances Patrelle’s The Yorkville Nutcracker at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in NYC

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre

Oregon

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker at Portland’s Keller Auditorium

Portland Festival Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Lake Oswego High School Auditorium

Pennsylvania

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at Tower Theater in Upper Darby

Texas

MBS Productions’ A Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker at Studio Theatre at the Addison Conference & Theatre Centre

Woodlands Ballet Ensemble’s The Nutcracker at The Woodlands College Park High School

Washington

Olympic Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker at Everett Performing Arts Center and at Edmonds Center for the Arts

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Seattle’s McCaw Hall

Washington, D.C.

The Fairfax Ballet’s The Nutcracker at W.T. Woodson High School

Olney Ballet Theatre's The Nutcracker at Olney Theatre Center

Virginia Ballet Company's The Nutcracker at Ernst Cultural Center in Annandale, VA

Rockville Civic Ballet's The Nutcracker at F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville, MD

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at George Mason University's Center for the Arts

The Washington Ballet's The Nutcracker at Warner Theatre

Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s The Nutcracker at Bowie Center for the Performing Arts

Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker at The Kennedy Center Opera House

 

May the best Nutcracker win! Photo courtesy of the Santa Barbara Independent.

 

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Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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