Sometimes you don’t need words to spread the holiday spirit

By Lianna Matt

No holiday dance is more classic than “The Nutcracker.” As Taylor Huber, executive director of Ballet Minnesota says, “Once you hear certain music by Tchaikovsky, you’re instantly in the holiday spirit.” Therefore, it’s no surprise that a good number of the dances this season are inspired by the timeless story of Clara exploring the fantastic world of sugar plum fairies and mouse kings. What is surprising is just how different each performance can be, whether it be a hip hop version of the story or one that takes you back to 1892 when “The Nutcracker” first premiered.

Our local dance companies are steeped in holiday tradition, and while pointe shoes and tutus aren’t difficult to find, each company has their own style and point of view. Ballet Minnesota presents “The Classic Nutcracker” for the 30th year Dec. 15-17 at The O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University, and Minnesota Dance Theatre puts on another year of “Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy” at the State Theatre Dec. 15-23 with the backing of a 44-piece orchestra. Still, other companies have put their own twist on the story.

A Minnesota Nutcracker” by Twin Cities Ballet brings the story into our own backyard with the banks of the Mississippi River, Rice Park and Summit Avenue making up some of the many local scenes. For a special, shortened version for children, see their “Mini-Nutcracker” Nov. 28 at the Lakeville Area Arts Center, and for the full version, go to the Ames Center in Burnsville Dec. 8-10. “Clara’s Dream” by St. Paul Ballet omits the Nutcracker entirely instead focusing on Clara throughout the piece, which shows at The O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University Dec. 1-3. For a little more cheek, follow Barbie and Ken in “Nutcracker (not so) Suite,” performed by James Sewell Ballet at The Cowles Center for Performing Arts Dec. 15-30; they even have some racier performance editions available on their Naughty Nutcracker Nights.

Photo by Brianne Bland, courtesy of Twin Cities Ballet. Ballerinas take the stage in tutus for the holiday presentation of "A Minnesota Nutcracker" by Twin Cities Ballet.

“A Minnesota Nutcracker.” Photo by Brianne Bland, courtesy of Twin Cities Ballet.

Not every holiday choreography in the Twin Cities is based on “The Nutcracker,” but they all capture different aspects of the holidays. In “Chill (Charlie Brown Project),” Dec. 9 and 16 at the Amsterdam Bar, Erinn Liebhard and her team dance to live renditions of Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy “Peanuts” soundtrack. Perhaps one of the most relatable pieces is “HoliDaydream” by the Minnesota Dance Collaborative. From Dec. 15-17 in the Southern Theater, follow Marie as she learns that growing up means that the not all magic and traditions around the holidays stay the same, for better or for worse.

As much as we love our local acts, we would be remiss not to mention the nationally touring ones that are alighting in the Twin Cities this year. From Jennifer Weber, the artistic director of Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre, comes “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” at the State Theatre Nov. 21 and 22, which brings the tale to 1980s Brooklyn. (Check out our review on it here.) A little outside of the cities at the Mystic Lake Showroom in Prior Lake, Florida-based Cirque Dreams presents “Holidaze,” a 20-act circus show with stupendous feats of athleticism and acrobatics to live music Nov. 25-Dec. 3. Then, from an even farther distance, are the dancers of Moscow Ballet, who perform amid a 60-foot growing Christmas tree and spectacular sets in “The Great Russian Nutcracker” at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis on Dec. 2.

Each of these dances tells one story of the holidays without using words. For Zoé Emilee Henrot of St. Paul Ballet, the holidays are about traditions and memories, and for both the dancers and the audience members,  the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a little movement.

A Dancer’s Holiday

What better way to learn about the Twin Cities holiday season than from the locals who love it?

Rice Park/Landmark Center, when fully decorated, tops the list (of Minnesota winter settings). With Landmark Center’s fairy tale castle quality as a backdrop, the lights, decorations and general ambiance is so festive.” Rick Vogt, assistant artistic director, Twin Cities Ballet

“The music of ‘The Nutcracker Suite’ always reminds me of fond memories in the theater growing up, being so excited to perform and yet nervous at the same time. … ‘The Waltz of the Snowflakes’ (from ‘The Nutcracker’) is what feel most like the holidays to me—snow blizzards outside.” Zoé Emilee Henrot, artistic director, St. Paul Ballet

“Another just-outside-the-cities favorite is going to Red Wing’s Holiday Stroll, held every year the Friday after Thanksgiving. My husband is from Red Wing, and both our families get together to enjoy this event each year.” Erinn Liebhard, director, “Chill”

Being a student to a professional performing ‘The Classic Nutcracker’ year after year, I used to think there’s nothing else like it. … (Now) I love watching the younger students learn new roles over the years and how excited they get once they’ve reached a certain role.” Tayler Huber, executive director, Ballet Minnesota

“Our old neighborhood was around Lake of the Isles, and (very late on Christmas Eve) we have bundled up with warm clothes, blankets and hot cocoa to ride around the lakes in the dark and quiet to see the extravagant splendor of the local Christmas lights.” Shelli Manzoline, artistic and youth company director, Minnesota Dance Collaborative


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