Nutcrackers for Christmas

I had the delight of seeing American Repertory Ballet’s production of “Nutcracker” on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, with my 9 year old granddaughter. I bought tickets for the first row of the balcony at McCarter. We loved it.

Then a friend asked me – which Nutcracker to choose for a newcomer to Princeton who used to teach dance? If you are still deciding whether to see Nutcracker this seasons, here is my assessment of the “small town” and “big city” alternatives.

Why you would see American Repertory Ballet: ARB has one more set of performances, at the New Brunswick State Theater, on Saturday and Sunday, December 18 and 19. It is a heart warming and beautiful production with professional dancers in the leading roles, some of them my favorites. This all-new production has choreography by the new director, Douglas Martin, with Audree’ Estey’s 1963 choreography for the party scene plus some welcome updates. Martin (a Really Nice Guy), plays Drosselmeier, and the adult cast, now unified behind him, has a good time on stage and it shows. LOTS of children, and they are appropriately used. (Above, the fabled soldier line, always exciting.)

Before, when ARB positioned itself as one of the nation’s leading companies, the teenage girls augmented the corps of mature professional dancers and often struggled to keep up with them. Under the new structure, the company has a core group of good young professionals and augments with apprentices. It works. The Nutcracker corps consists only of the advanced students, and they are not asked to do anything they can’t do, with a very pleasing and calming result for Flowers and Snow.

For the New Brunswick State Theater tickets are $52 and $32. Parking is essentially free. Unlike at McCarter these performances do have a live orchestra, and the historic theater offers an appropriate dignity to the production.

Why you would choose Pa Ballet:
It’s with full orchestra at the Academy of Music, in itself an experience, a grand and historic opera house, with a professional company doing Balanchine’s version. At the time I wrote this, it had $49 seats in the highest balcony on the side for Friday, December 17, $62 in the center. Add $12-$25 parking plus gas. It runs to December 31, mostly on weekends but it is DAILY after Christmas.

Similarly priced tickets may actually still be available in the “orchestra,” they call it parquet, on the outside side aisles. Watch out for the Academy seats that are partial view.

Why you would choose New York City Ballet: To get a New York experience and of course a fabulous company and orchestra. It runs almost daily through January 2. You can still get seats for as little as $40 in the back of the fourth balcony, but take your binoculars – you’ll be pretty far away. Evening shows are at 6 p.m. so you get home at a decent hour. Be careful about taking young children to any out-of-town production. You run the risk of tiring them out even before they get there. To the ticket price, add $60 round trip for 2 adult tickets on NJ Transit, or pay tunnel tolls and try to find on-street parking.

For a flamenco version, The Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre presents the Spanish version of Nutcracker, El Sueño, at Mercer County Community College’s Kelsey Theatre, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m.

For an intriguing view of Nutcrackers nationally, read Alastair McCauley in the New York Times. He is crisscrossing the country to review lots of them. When I was the dance critic for the Trenton Times, I did that on a local scale and — like McCauley — I found a delightful, not boring, array.

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