A scene from ARC’s classic “Nutcracker” production. Photo by Paul Sanders
A scene from ARC’s classic “Nutcracker” production. Photo by Paul Sanders
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"The Nutcracker” has become a longstanding tradition in Seattle and all over the world for decades.

While the original ‘Nutcracker’ premiered at the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg in 1892, according to Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) spokesperson Gary Tucker, the first American production of “The Nutcracker” was choreographed by William Christensen for San Francisco Ballet back in the mid-‘40s, and ran for 60 years.

Despite its age, productions make a continual effort to keep it fresh for their audiences and dancers. Next year, PNB is shifting from the Kent Stowell/Maurice Sendak ‘Nutcracker’ it has presented since 1983 to unveiling George Balanchine’s version, which will feature all-new sets and costumes by author and illustrator Ian Falconer. 

“Productions of ‘Nutcracker’ are essential for almost any ballet school or company,” Tucker said. “They give many young dancers their first opportunity to perform on stage. For many audience members, it is their first exposure to ballet and live theatre. ‘Nutcracker’ can inspire young audience members to become arts lovers…or performers.”

In addition to PNB, the Arc School of Ballet, ARC Dance Company and Arc Youth Dance Company are also mounting its own production of the classic ballet. ARC celebrates its 10th-anniversary production of “The Nutcracker” this December.

“It inspires the future dancers of the next generation,” said ARC artistic director Marie Chong.

ARC not only celebrates 10 years of presenting “Nutcracker Sweets,” a condensed, 75-minute version of “The Nutcracker,” but also the 10th anniversary of Arc School of Ballet and the 15th anniversary of ARC’s professional company.

“We have people who have been with us for 10 years and like to watch the evolution,” Chong said. “I’m incredibly proud of the training ground — what our school has produced and what the company has produced.”

ARC’s “Nutcracker” stands out with its fresh choreography every year and preservation of the original story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (E.T.A. Hoffmann), set to the renowned ballet music score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

“Our ‘Nutcracker’ is more traditional. It’s not like you see at the Pacific Northwest Ballet,” Chong said. “The most challenging part of creating any ballet, but specifically ‘Nutcracker,’ is maintaining the integrity of the storyline and not steering too far away from what that is.”

As part of its celebration this year, ARC will bring back its full-length, 2.5-hour “Classic Nutcracker,” in addition to its annual production of “Nutcracker Sweets.” ARC previously presented the full-length version in 1995 and in collaboration with Sammamish’s Highland Dance Academy in 2007.

“It’s pretty ambitious,” Chong said. “For many of the dancers, this is the first time they have done a full-length ‘Nutcracker.’”

The cast of more than 100 dancers ranges in age, from age 3 in “Nutcracker Sweets” and age 7 in the classic, full-length production, to adults in their 50s. Most of the dancers perform in both productions.

“I like the music, and I think the story is really fun,” said student Peyton McKenny, 14, who has been in “The Nutcracker” since it started at ARC and performed as Clara in the production last year. This year, McKenny performs as a flower, a flute and as one of Clara’s friends. Like McKenny, many of the performers have had an opportunity to progress into different roles throughout the years.

ARC’s publicist Michele Garcia Havard said, “It really gives the kids a chance to meet their potential.” Havard’s 13-year-old daughter Elena and 10-year-old son William are both performing in the ballet this year.

Student Anna Leipertz, 16, who has been dancing since she was about 3 years old, started performing in “The Nutcracker” production since it started at ARC a decade ago.

“I think everyone should experience ‘Nutcracker’ at least once,’” she said.

“Ballet has been around for hundreds of years,” Chong added. “It’s like the alphabet. It’s like oxygen when it comes to the performance arts — people have to have it.”

ARC’s “Nutcracker Sweets,” which takes place at ARC (9250 14th Ave. N.W.) on Friday, Dec. 12, through Sunday, Dec. 14, is sold-out. However, tickets are still available for ARC’s full-length “Classic Nutcracker,” which takes place Saturday, Dec. 20, at 4 pm and Sunday, Dec. 21, at 2 pm at the Shorewood Performing Arts Center (Shorewood High School, 17300 Fremont Ave. N.) in Shoreline. For ticket information, visit www.arcdance.org or call (206) 352-0798.

PNB’s “Nutcracker” runs through Dec. 28 at McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.). For ticket information, call (206) 441-2424 or go online to PNB.org. JESSICA DAVIS is a Seattle-based arts writer. To comment on this story, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.