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DANCIN' FEATS Mixed Nuts: Nutcracker arrives, in different forms
by Scott C. Morgan

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The holidays are here, which means we're in for an overdose of The Nutcracker ballet in and around Chicago.

Now many dance aficionados roll their eyes about the monopoly of this sugary ballet on the holiday season in the United States. And many dancers get tired of doing the same old thing year after year when other works like Cinderella, Coppelia or The Tales of Beatrix Potter would be entirely suitable replacements for the season.

But there is plenty of good that comes from this glut of Nutcrackers each year. This 1892 Russian ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov has helped to inspire generations of kids ( both in the audience and on stage ) to discover an interest in dance.

The fact that the opening party scene and battle sequences in The Nutcracker feature so many kids also guarantees an audience of extended family relatives to buy tickets. ( For many a ballet company and dance studio, The Nutcracker is their guaranteed cash cow. )

And the LGTBQ community can also take pride that the ballet's gay composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, produced such a popular and everlasting score that continues to delight successive generations. The fact that this very Russian romantic work became such an American tradition in the 1940s and '50s ( at the height of the Cold War, no less ) is a testament to its universality.

So with that in mind, check out these notable area productions of The Nutcracker.

The Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker holds pride of place for being the biggest and most professional production of the work around town. This 1987 Nutcracker is also significant in the company's history, since it was the final full-length work choreographed by the company's co-founder, Robert Joffrey. The Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker plays the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress, Dec. 11-27. Tickets are $25-$100. Call 800-982-2787 or visit .

Before the Joffrey Ballet relocated to Chicago in the 1990s, it was Chicago dance pioneer Ruth Page whose home-grown version of The Nutcracker that dominated Chicago. ( It played for an amazing 32 seasons at the Arie Crown Theatre. ) Civic Ballet of Chicago now performs Page's version of The Nutcracker, and it appears Dec. 12-13 at Skokie's North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie. Tickets are $35. Call 847-673-6300 or visit . The production also plays the Lumber Center for the Performing Arts at College of Lake County, 19351 W. Washington, Grayslake, Dec. 19-20. Tickets there are $12-$27; call 847-543-2300 or visit .

An interesting bit of trivia regarding Chicago Festival Ballet's The Nutcracker is that President Barack Obama's daughters once danced in this production ( back in the days when he was still an Illinois senator ) . This production features chorography by Kenneth von Heidecke and accompaniment by the New Philharmonic Orchestra for five performances between Dec. 18-20 at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, 425 Fawell, Glen Ellyn. Tickets are $27-37. Call 630-942-4000 or visit .

The Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker promises to be a big affair, especially since it plays the mammoth Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River, Rosemont. It just plays a 3 p.m. matinee on Dec. 13. Tickets are $25.50-$85.50. Call 800-745-3000.

Dancenter North production of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet goes by the name The Magic of the Nutcracker. Several professional dancers who got their start with the company make a point of returning home each holiday season to perform in the production, which finishes the season with two performances on Dec. 12 and 13 at the Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee, Waukegan. Tickets are $15-$35; call 847-263-6300 or see .

Unlike many area ballet studios, Ballet Legere's version of The Nutcracker boasts a full orchestra to accompany its performances ( instead of a taped accompanying track ) . Ballet Legere's Nutcracker plays three performances from Dec. 12-13 at the Chodl Auditorium at Morton East High School, 2423 S. Austin, Cicero. Tickets are $24-$26 and $20-$22; call 773-237-1874 or visit .

Salt Creek Ballet's The Nutcracker always guarantees top-flight imported dancers from professional companies in the major roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Cavalier and the Snow Queen and King. Salt Creek Ballet's Nutcracker tour finishes up its touring season at the Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University, 1 University Parkway, off I-57 at Sauk Trail, University Park. Performances are 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 12. Tickets are $20-$40. Call 708-235-2222 or visit .

And if you're tired of that same out Tchaikovsky score, check out Reggio "The Hoofer" McLaughlin's multicultural interpretation of the original E.T.A. Hoffmann tale called The Nut Tapper. It plays at 4 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport. Tickets are $20-$25. Call 800-982-2787.

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