You already know Matthew Bourne: He's the choreographer who awesomely remade Swan Lake with a flock of male swans. (You may not have seen his Swan Lake live, but you definitely saw it at the end of Billy Elliot. Grown-up Billy as the Swan! Ahhh so great.)
Bourne is all about rethinking old-school ballets. Recently he took on another big Tchaikovsky classic, Sleeping Beauty. In Bourne's version, the Princess Aurora is born in the late 1800s—about the time Tchaikovsky wrote the Sleeping Beauty score—and wakes up, after her 100-year nap, in the present day.
As if that weren't enough of a curveball, there's another twist: Bourne replaces the ballet's Lilac Fairy with an intimidating character known as Count Lilac. And as his title hints, the Count is, in fact, a vampire. Needless to say, things take a turn for the weird—and fast.
Count Lilac doing his vampire thing. Yes, that is a puppet baby Aurora. And yes, she is amazing. (photo by Simon Annand)
Curious about how all that plays out onstage? You're in luck: Several PBS stations will air Bourne's Sleeping Beauty this Friday night. Click here for local listings. In the meantime, you can get a sneak peek at all the gothic goodness in this trailer:
Like many of you, I'm guessing, seeing The Nutcracker every year was a major holiday tradition growing up. My studio never put on our own production, so my BFF Becky and I would go to a different show each winter with our moms.
We started small by seeing a Nutcracker at St. Paul's School in Concord, NH. I was young, it was my first Nut experience, and my mind was blown.
Eventually, we upgraded: We took a drive south to see Boston Ballet's Nutcracker. Mind = further blown. Whether on a small school stage or a much larger one, The Nutcracker was instantly magical to me, and it was a crucial part of my early dance experience. I became obsessed with the Tchaikovsky score, and I always picked a really lavish dress to wear to the show because being fancy was important at The Nutcracker.
It wasn't until I moved to NYC and started working at Dance Spirit that I saw the granddaddy of them all: New York City Ballet's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker.
Maria Kowroski in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
NYCB principal Maria Kowroski danced the Sugar Plum Fairy role, and I remember thinking it was physically impossible to have legs that long and feet that archy—and yet there she was, in all her perfect ballerina glory, being promenaded around by her cavalier.
Daniel Ulbricht in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Fellow principal Daniel Ulbricht led the hyper-peppy Candy Canes, while former Dance Spirit cover girl Kathryn Morgan, then a corps de ballet dancer, stood out during the snow scene.
My beloved snow scene. This is New York City Ballet in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Ah, the snow scene. It makes me cry every time because it's just so beautiful. The Nutcracker is the holiday season to me, and I can't wait to continue my annual tradition by seeing NYCB's production again next week. In the meantime—until I get my Land of Sweets fix—I'll be happily prancing around the office humming all that good music and forcing the rest of the DS staff to share their favorite Nutcracker memories with me. And then I'll share them with you...
"The 'Dance of the Bonbons' was the first piece I almost performed onstage—I chickened out last-minute when I saw Mother Ginger's massive skirts! It wasn't until college that I had the opportunity to dance in The Nutcracker again. The wait was totally worth it: I got to dance 'Arabian,' a role so powerful and mysterious. I still get chills every time I hear the music." —Maggie McNamara
"I have hundreds of wonderful Nutcracker memories. But the reason the ballet is special to me is less about a single moment and more about the way it became a yardstick. Every year, between the ages of 7 and 18, I came back to it; every year, there were new parts to discover, or old parts to rediscover. It was the way I measured my progress, and it always had something new to teach me. (Still does!)" —Margaret Fuhrer
Rachel (center) as a Cavalry Mouse
"I was in the children's cast of The Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker for a few years. My last time auditioning, I had grown too tall to technically be a kid, but they offered me the part of a Cavalry Mouse—or a mouse who's riding another mouse like a horse. The part was easy, I didn't have to spend hours on my hair and makeup and the audience went wild whenever we galloped our way into the Battle Scene. When I'm in the audience to this day, I always cheer loudest for those Cavalry Mice." —Rachel Zar
"The Nutcracker combines two of my favorite things: Christmas and ballet. I saw the Joffrey's production almost every year growing up, and loved coming home and dancing by the fire in my living room, holding my own nutcracker doll and wearing a satin nightgown like Clara." —Meggie Hermanson
We want to hear your Nutcracker stories! Share your favorites in the comments below—and happy Nutcracker season!