Houston Ballet Soloist Jacquelyn Long.

The pandemic's looming presence has become the ultimate antagonist this holiday season, taking the Mouse King's throne as it brought about the cancellation of the Houston Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker—a wintertime staple of merriment and unforgettable memories that has graced the Bayou City stage for almost 50 consecutive years.

But that hasn't deterred the ballet from spreading holiday cheer with the premiere of its new Nutcracker Sweets. This virtual production, which runs from Dec. 15 through Jan. 8, 2021, offers a new take on this annual Christmas tradition with a  combination of footage from old company performances of the Tchaikovsky holiday ballet and never-before-seen dances set to favorite seasonal carols and holiday songs.

"For many of the dancers and the audience, they've had The Nutcracker as part of their lives since they were born," says Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet's artistic director. "Having this come back and seeing it on television is really exciting, and it's something new for us." 

Artists of Houston Ballet in Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker.

The Houston Ballet wanted Nutcracker Sweets to move more as a film while still containing the impactful score that's made the tale a holiday spectacular, Welch explains. And the new, roughly hour-long show does just that, combining the Sugar Plum Fairy's whimsical performance with lighthearted carols, like Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" and Barbra Streisand's "Jingle Bells," and old-timey, TV-special feel to produce a warm and cheeky story.

“You might not see every element of each dance,” adds Welch, “but you follow the story and the character." 

Though this new normal of streamed performances is vastly different from holiday spectaculars of old, the pandemic has, in a way, provided the Houston Ballet with an unexpected gift, he says.

“The blessing is the fact we can all share Christmas, even though it's virtually, together all around the world. All of our dancers' families, who often never see them dance, friends overseas, we can all sit and watch The Nutcracker together. And that's charming.”

Thru Jan 8. $35. Online. More information and tickets at houstonballet.org

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