Not Your Average Nut: This Season’s Different Holiday Ballets

November 28, 2023

Nutcracker—we could dance it with our eyes closed and hum its score the whole way through. But despite being the certifiable staple of ballet holiday repertoire, traditional Nutcrackers aren’t the only programs hitting the stage this month.

The 2023 winter season has cracked up to be pretty diverse, from world-premiere adaptations of other favorite holiday stories to reimagined fairy tales and even a trip down the rabbit hole. Here’s what else companies are performing as we enter the most wonderful time of the year:

Smuin Contemporary Ballet: The Christmas Ballet

San Francisco’s Smuin Contemporary Ballet returns with The Christmas Ballet. The annual company program features a selection of new dances alongside popular mainstays, including an audience-favorite “Santa Baby” number. The Christmas Ballet is composed of two acts—Act I: “The Classical Christmas” and Act II: “The Cool Christmas”—with the second featuring jazzier, Broadway-influenced pieces. The program opened November 18–19 in Walnut Creek and continues December 1–2 in Carmel, December 7–10 in Mountain View, and December 14–24 in San Francisco.

Post:Ballet and Berkeley Ballet Theater: Nutcracker

December 1–3, the Bay Area’s Post:Ballet and Berkeley Ballet Theater perform a brand-new Nutcracker with nature-filled twists. Post:Ballet artistic director Robin Dekker’s choreography features protagonists Clara and Charlie, who meet a Nutcracker Bird that guides them through a land of sunlight fairies, volcanoes, desert cacti, and more. San Francisco drag artist Grace Towers debuts as Mother Nature, and Post:Ballet company members will dance alongside BBT’s youth and adult open-division students.

Post:Ballet dancers as the Nutcracker Bird Snowy Owl with Berkely Ballet Theater studio company members as snowflakes. The four dancers are suspended mid-air in various sauté poses in front of a black backdrop.
Post:Ballet dancers as the Nutcracker Bird and Snowy Owl with Berkeley Ballet Theater studio company members. Photo by Tricia Cronin, courtesy Post:Ballet.

Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater: The Polar Express

New Jersey’s Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater brings Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 children’s book to life with the world premiere of Gabriel Chajnik’s The Polar Express. Running at Axelrod Performing Arts Center December 1–10, the cast includes AXCBT company dancers and Axelrod Academy students, featuring guest performer Robert Taylor Jr. (of Broadway’s The SpongeBob Musical) as The Conductor. The Polar Express will blend live dancing and projections to tell the classic story.

Robert Taylor Jr. does an Italian pas de chat, dressed as a Polar Express chef. He wears striped black and white pants, a white frock, and a white chef's hat while holding a large candy cane. He poses in front of a dark green backdrop.
Dennzyl Green. Photo by Sarah Takash, courtesy Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater.

Finnish National Ballet: A Christmas Carol

Finnish National Ballet presents the world premiere of Sir David Bintley’s A Christmas Carol, running December 1–30 at the Helsinki opera house’s main stage. The new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic features an all-British creative team, including Bintley, composer Sally Beamish, costume and set designer Anna Fleischle, lighting designer Mark Henderson, and conductor Paul Murphy. Beamish has composed a new score to accompany the production, which is set in 19th-century London.

Wonderbound: Icy Haught

Denver-based Wonderbound brings the heat with its brand-new holiday production, Icy Haught. Choreographed by artistic director Garrett Ammon and associate choreographer Sarah Tallman, the steamy new ballet runs December 7–17 at Wonderbound’s resident performance space. A miscellany of anecdotes, the piece weaves frosty and saucy numbers for an evening that is decidedly not traditional holiday fare.

Two female dancers wearing red and white frilly dresses, tights, and high-heel chunky boots pose together in front of a dark red backdrop. They laugh and look at the camera, flinging up their arms and legs.
Wonderbound dancers in Icy Haught. Photo by Garrett Ammon, courtesy Wonderbound.

Deos Contemporary Ballet: Cracked Nuts

Grand Rapids’ Deos Contemporary Ballet gets nutty with the world premiere of artistic director Tess Sinke’s Cracked Nuts: Not Your Mother’s Nutcracker. Created for adults—and adults only—the comedy ballet debuts on December 15 and features a punch-drunk Clara navigating an office Christmas party gone wrong. The evening, held at Michigan Ballet Academy, also offers a performance by a live professional comedian, drinks, and more.

Deos Contemporary Ballet dancer Leah Haggard drapes herself dramatically over a white armchair, wearing a red dress and red pointe shoes. She makes a fake swoon pose with her arm daintily bent and eyes closed.
Deos Contemporary Ballet dancer Leah Haggard in Cracked Nuts. Photo by Dave Burgess, courtesy Deos.

Ballet Co.Laboratory: Nutcracker in Wonderland

December 8–10, Ballet Co.Laboratory of St. Paul, Minnesota, presents its annual winter production, Nutcracker in Wonderland. Set to Tchaikovsky’s score, artistic director Zoé Emilie Henrot’s choreography weaves together classic Nutcracker characters with familiar faces from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as Clara and Alice navigate the Land of Snowflakes and Wonderland together.

Scottish Ballet: Cinders!

Scottish Ballet presents a new take on the classic Cinderella story with Cinders! Choreographed by artistic director Christopher Hampson, the world premiere’s lead role of Cinders will be performed by a woman on some nights and a man on others, each meeting their respective Prince or Princess at the end of the night; the lead dancers’ names will be shared prior to the performance, but their roles will remain secret until the curtain rises. The production includes Art Nouveau–inspired sets and costumes designed by Elin Steele, and the Scottish Ballet Orchestra will play Prokofiev’s score live. Cinders! runs December 9–31 at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal, January 5–20 at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, January 24–27 at Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre, January 31–February 3 at Inverness’ Eden Court Theatre, and February 7–10 at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo: L’Enfant et les Sortilèges

In 1925, Maurice Ravel composed his opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (The Child and Spells) based on the tragic and imaginative libretto by French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, known simply as Colette. It tells the story of a young boy who mistreats the toys in his room, only for them to come to life and teach him a lesson. Now, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo presents the world premiere of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ballet L’Enfant et les Sortilèges December 20–24 at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum. The performance features 240 artists onstage—50 dancers, 90 musicians, and 100 singers—and is part of a double bill following George Balanchine’s La Valse.

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo rehearsing <i>L’Enfant et les Sortilèges</i>. In a black and white photo, a female dancer with a surprised face bends sideways in a deep second position plie, holding a leaf-shaped prop underneath the legs of a male dancer, who arches back in surprise.
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo rehearsing L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. Photo by Alice Blangero, courtesy Monte-Carlo.