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Uptown Dance Theatre's The Nutcracker

It’s officially Christmastime around the country, the state and Houston. Decorations at shopping centers have been up since October and Black Friday has come and gone. Now, it’s the brigade of the Christmas performance specials like round-the-clock marathons of Home Alone, The Santa Claus and A Christmas Story, and plays like A Christmas Carol and the classic Nutcracker.

Everyone knows the storyline and everyone has probably seen a version of this every year since they were 3, but here’s a refresher: a young girl receives the gift of a nutcracker from her mysterious uncle and when she goes to bed that night she awakes surrounded by a slew of characters and a magical fairytale land. The story has endeared itself with audiences completely and become a much-beloved ballet production, so much so that there are many iterations in Houston this holiday season as well as around the world. The following four Houston-area dance companies share what makes their The Nutcracker productions so special.

Houston Ballet

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Houston Ballet Demi-soloist Elise Elliott portrays Clara, a snowflake, and the Snow Queen among others. She’s not daunted by the physical challenge of playing each role. “I have my Gatorade ready,” she says with a giggle. Plus, The Nutcracker season is her favorite part of the year.

And it shows. Elliott has not only performed in The Nutcracker each of her nine years at the Houston Ballet, but she’s also performed in some version of The Nutcracker since she was seven-years-old—19 years in all. “It makes it so much fun every year to get to see the magic.”

This year marks the final year the company presents Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker. Elliott, who has worked with Stevenson directly, says the stakes are high. “The chance to perform this role, in this production, for this year, is a really big deal to me. I just want to make him proud and make sure that I do it justice.“

Nov 27–Dec 27. $29–139. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Street. 713-227-2787. houstonballet.org

Houston Dance Theatre

Like the Houston Ballet, Houston Dance Theatre has staged The Nutcracker for more than 30 years. Artistic Director Angela Jackson stage directs and performs in this year’s HDT production of The Nutcracker. ”One of the things I love about our storytelling is, not only is it very musical, set to Tchaikovsky's music, but it makes a lot of sense. You tell the story very clearly and very well,” she notes.

The dance company’s musicality proves useful as Jackson particularly considers the production’s "Waltz of the Flowers" to be a point of pride, calling their interpretation of rich movement gorgeous. “The tutus have many different layers of tulle and net. And when the dancers jump, all the different colors come out so it looks like different colored flowers waltzing across the stage.”

Nov 28 at 7; Nov 29 at 2:30. $25. Geiger Performing Arts Center, Houston Dance Theatre, 15775 Bammel Village Dr. 281-444-9698. houstondancetheatre.org

City Ballet of Houston

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City Ballet of Houston has two Nutcrackers for Houston audiences. The traditional staging, which the company has shown annually for 30 years, has the Victorian setting and ornate choreography, costuming, and sets that audiences have come to expect from the timeless fairytale. But CBH president, Jennifer Novak feels its second offering, the Inner City Nutcracker, is a crowning achievement. “My best (and ongoing) memories of The Nutcracker is of the Inner City Nutcracker production. The vast majority of the children attending the morning show, dedicated to Title 1 schools, have never attended a live performance.” Some have never been downtown, she adds. And yet, the children make the best audiences. “They cheer and clap as if this was the most magical event they have ever seen!”

The Inner City Nutcracker will be at Jones Hall on Dec. 1. And the City Ballet of Houston’s long running production of The Nutcracker will be at The Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston on Dec. 12 and 13. Tickets are less than $25. 409-765-1894. thegrand.com.

Uptown Dance Company

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Image: Amy Phillips

Uptown Dance Company has performed The Nutcracker for as long as the company has been in existence. It is their most popular production, with sold out performances each year, and Artistic Director Beth Gulledge Brown knows why. “It's a ballet for the whole family: kid friendly story line, fun and exciting costumes and props, and of course beautiful music and choreography.”

Uptown Dance’s production is an intimate affair. “We make it an intimate experience for the audience.” The ballet is performed in Uptown Dance Centre's black box theater. And audience members, seated at tables, are welcome to hors d'oeuvres and refreshments. “The cozy setting really makes our guests feel like they are a part of the story.”

Dec 3–13. Thursdays at 6:30, Fridays at 7, Saturdays at 2 & 7 and Sundays at 2 & 6:30. $50 per seat; $400 for a table of 8; $500 for a table of 10. Uptown Dance Centre, 7417 Shadyvilla. uptowndancecompany.wordpress.com

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