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Nutcracker Dominates December Dance in San Francisco

For me growing up, every September meant Nutcracker auditions, and October and November were filled with rehearsals, costume fittings and the thrill of anticipation. Years after we graduated, my fellow students and I still pined for Nutcracker season every fall.

The storied holiday classic, it seems, is not only addictive to young dancers, it is also a perennial family magnet and a tremendous moneymaker. In some U.S. cities, it is the Nutcracker production that puts a ballet company in the black, ensuring it can proffer lesser-known and contemporary works later in the season. For youngsters, the Nutcracker often serves as an introduction to ballet as an art form. Consequently, in hundreds of localities nationwide, some company, character or collective produces a dance version of E.T.A. Hoffman’s beloved tale.

True to form, the Bay Area’s small ballet companies – many school or academy-based — mount the Christmas ballet in abbreviated form in intimate settings. Larger companies can be relied upon for live music, dramatic effects, and elaborate sets and costumes.

Staging the beloved piece for one weekend only, with casts composed mostly of students from their respective schools, are Marin Ballet, Alameda Civic Ballet (Dec 17-18), Santa Clara Ballet and San Francisco’s City Ballet Theatre. Ticket prices are affordable and attending offers a look at the wealth of young dance talent in the area.

Smaller companies that can afford to present the ballet for two weekends include Berkeley Ballet Theater (Dec 16-18) at the Julia Morgan Center. Peninsula Ballet Theater (Dec 17-18) at Redwood City’s Fox Theatre and Valley Dance Theatre (Dec 16-18) at Livermore Performing Arts Center.

Though not a local company, Moscow Ballet performs its Great Russian Nutcracker at Santa Rosa’s Wells Fargo Center for the Arts on December 17. Featuring adult dancers from Russia, it fills children’s roles with local talent. Moscow Ballet dances the Christmas classic in dozens of U.S. and Canadian cities each year.

Silicon Valley’s valiant Ballet San Jose produces Nutcracker from December 10 through 23 at the Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose. The company, which owns enviable relationships with sought-after choreographers, boasts professional dancers from all over the world. The Nutcracker cast is augmented by local children and students of the Ballet San Jose School.

If shopping and holiday prep keep you tied up until the last minute, don’t despair. The Oakland Ballet proffers a production at the central city’s Art Deco treasure, the Paramount Theater, from December 22 to 24.

Of course, if nothing but the highest production values will do, take advantage of San Francisco Ballet’s full-length Nutcracker, from Dec 9 to 27 at the War Memorial Opera House. Set in 1915, this opulent staging boasts a brilliant interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, novel choreography and world-class dancing. Whatever your time, taste and budget limitations, there’s sure to be a Nutcracker that’s perfect for you and yours.