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Navigating ‘The Nutcracker’: Which Show Is Right For You?

The Sugar Plum Fairy greets her young attendants in San Diego Ballet's

Photo by Manuel Rotenberg

Above: The Sugar Plum Fairy greets her young attendants in San Diego Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

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

But "Nutcracker" performances have already started, with at least one production happening each weekend from Thanksgiving through the end of December. So with nearly 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.

Photo by Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Professional dancers from Moscow Ballet perform the party scene from the "Great Russian Nutcracker."

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. 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 Ballet Arte, San Diego Academy of Ballet, Encinitas Ballet, Scripps Performing Arts and Southern California Ballet.

These shows range in price from $10 to $50.

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 show features dancers as young as 5, and includes favorite moments like the party scene, snow variation and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ballet Arte

A photo of Ballet Arte's production of "The Nutcracker."

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 performances on Dec. 14 and 21.

If you're looking for a shorter commitment, California Professional Ballet Program is 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 Fairmont Grand Del Mar.

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. 16, 19 and 22. 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.

You can find options close to home by using this "Nutcracker" guide (you can view all the events on a map by clicking the "location pin" icon above the list on the right).


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