Which San Diego 'Nutcracker' Is Right For Me?

A breakdown of more than two dozen local holiday ballet performances

Thursday, November 16, 2017
By Nina Garin
Photo by Zachary Barron
Above: A 2017 photo of San Diego Civic Youth Ballet's dancers in "The Nutcracker."

It may seem too early to think about “The Nutcracker,” the traditional holiday ballet with music by Tchaikovsky.

But "Nutcracker" performances are starting soon, with at least one production happening every weekend from Thanksgiving into the new year. So with over two dozen options, how do you decide which production to see?

Most versions of "The Nutcracker" follow a similar story: a girl receives a magical nutcracker for Christmas and is transported to the Land of Sweets where she meets characters like Mother Ginger and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Because the story doesn't vary much, choosing a show depends on more practical things: location, price and how perfect you want those pirouettes to be. Here's a guide that breaks down the options.

I want to see a professional "Nutcracker"

There are three main San Diego dance companies that stage full productions. California Ballet is perhaps the most popular one, performed at the Civic Theatre with a live symphony orchestra. City Ballet, also with live music, is the most classic version. And San Diego Ballet may just be the most fun, thanks to choreography that makes the story easy to follow.

These shows tend to have higher ticket prices - between $40 and $200 - because they use professional dancers and have elaborate sets and handmade costumes.

I'd like to see a Russian "Nutcracker"

There are some slight differences in Russian versions of this ballet, including a "Dove of Peace" dance. You can see Moscow Ballet's version, which includes local children in the show. The Russian Grand Ballet will be in Escondido close to Christmas. Or head to the movies to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform in Moscow.

I don't have the budget for a professional show, but still want to see quality dancing

There are a number of small schools with rigorous training for dancers pursuing a professional career. Expect to see top-level productions from California Professional Ballet Program, Ballet Arte, Lynch Dance Institute, San Diego Academy of Ballet with Ballet Institute of San Diego, Encinitas Ballet, Chula Vista Ballet, Scripps Performing Arts and Pacific Arts Dance Center.

These shows range in price from $10 to $40.

Is there a "Nutcracker" in Balboa Park?

San Diego Civic Youth Ballet is staged by students and adults at the Casa del Prado Theater. This school, which features dancers as young as 5, also performs free excerpts during December Nights. Get a glimpse at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 2 at the Casa del Prado Theater.

I don't have the patience for a full "Nutcracker"

If you have small or special-needs family members, California Ballet has a toddler-friendly performance on Dec. 9, and a sensory-friendly show on Dec. 16.

If you're looking for a shorter commitment, California Professional Ballet Program and San Diego Academy of Ballet with Ballet Institute of San Diego are only doing Act II, which takes place in the Land of the Sweets. (The rest of their programs feature variations from other classic ballets.) Lynch Dance Institute is doing "an abridged, and somewhat unhinged" version of Act I, which includes the Party and Fight Scenes.

And if you'd like to chat and watch ballet, Scripps Performing Arts Academy has "Nutcracker" Holiday Tea at the Farimont Grand Del Mar.

Isn't there a hip-hop version?

Culture Shock San Diego has been staging its "Pop Culture Holiday Theatrical" for about ten years. This version fuses classical and contemporary music, plus features beloved ballet characters, plus figures from pop culture.

I heard Misty Copeland is doing a "Nutcracker" around here ...

Yes, kind of. Misty Copeland tours with American Ballet Theatre's "Nutcracker," but it happens in Orange County, at the Segerstrom Center. Copeland is scheduled to perform Dec. 7, 13 and 16. Here's a look at the schedule, plus a list of when other popular ABT dancers are scheduled.

I'm looking for a production close to home

You'll find "Nutcracker" productions by local schools scattered all over the county. These smaller, community shows are usually the cutest because many dancers are performing on stage for the very first time.

South Bay has Chula Vista Ballet and Inspire School of Ballet.

In Poway there's New West Ballet, All Star Dance and Southern California Ballet.

East County's closest options are Balletcenter Studios, Lynch Dance Institute and California Professional Ballet Program, all happening at the Kroc Center in Rolando.

In North County you can see Pacific Arts Dance Center, West Coast Ballet Theater, Encinitas Ballet and Performing Arts Workshop.

You can further narrow your options by using this "Nutcracker" guide (you can search from your location in the Where section).