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Ask KPBS/Arts: How Do I Pick A 'Nutcracker' Show?

Dancers on stage performing in "The Nutcracker."
Manuel Rotenberg
Dancers on stage performing in "The Nutcracker."

The holidays are officially here, so for this week's Ask KPBS/Arts, we'll tackle an issue that plagues lots of families this time of year.

I'd like to take my family to "The Nutcracker," so I went online to find discount tickets. Now I'm more confused than ever, there are so many options! How do I pick one? - Maria C.

Maria, you may not realize it, but I'm uniquely qualified to answer this question. Not only did I just compile this very handy roundup, but I've seen many of the local productions, too.


So, at their core, 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. It's all set to beautiful music by Tchaikovsky.

Because the story's the same, choosing a show depends on more practical things: location, price and how perfect you want those pirouettes to be.

San Diego Civic Youth Ballet stages a popular student version of "The Nutcracker."
Courtesy of San Diego Civic Youth Ballet
San Diego Civic Youth Ballet stages a popular student version of "The Nutcracker."

Many local ballet schools put on a "Nutcracker" performance with the most popular being San Diego Civic Youth Ballet in Balboa Park. Other good student shows that are reasonably priced are by San Diego Academy of Ballet, Ballet Arte, Encinitas Ballet and Southern California Ballet because they feature some of the top young dancers in town.

The tickets are priced lower - from $15 to $40 - because the casts are made up mostly of children ages 7 to 18 and the sets and costumes may not be as lavish as the professional companies.

If you were on one of the ticket discount sites like Goldstar or ArtsTix, you were probably dealing with the professional options. San Diego has three: California, City and San Diego.


Here's the breakdown: California Ballet is the 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 is the most theatrical with choreography that makes the story easy to follow.

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

Read the 2016 Comprehensive Guide to The Nutracker or search the KPBS/Arts calendar for one near you.

As if those weren't enough choices, the Moscow Ballet brings its "Great Russian Nutcracker" to town for one night. Be advised: the story is a bit different in this version and features unfamiliar elements like a Dove of Peace and a French variation.

Finally, if you have a family that's really into ballet, you can drive to Orange County where the renowned American Ballet Theatre now stages its "Nutcracker." I took my family last year to see Misty Copeland and it was worth the traffic and travel.

Whichever you pick, I hope your family has a wonderful time. Enjoy the Waltz of the Snow Flakes, it's my favorite.

How does a film festival work? What are good concerts for kids? Send me your events-related questions and they'll be answered each Thursday.