The Nutcracker

By Madison Rutherford


‘Tis the season for life-size toys, pirouetting sugar plums, rodent armies and waltzing flowers. The Nutcracker is a holiday institution that has been synonymous with the Christmas spirit for decades.

The timeless two-act ballet, famously scored by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, opens with a lavish Christmas party, where the young protagonist, Clara, is gifted a wooden nutcracker by the toymaker-magician, Drosselmeyer. She then falls into a dream where the nutcracker grows into a life-size soldier and battles an infantry of giant mice lead by the Mouse King. The nutcracker defeats the mice and transforms into a handsome prince, who then transports Clara to a magical kingdom where they are entertained with dazzling dances by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier, Mother Ginger and her gaggle of children, snowflakes, flowers, dewdrops, angels and personified treats from around the world.

From classic to innovative interpretations, there are endless opportunities to catch the whimsical holiday tradition in Arizona.

Here are a few in Phoenix and Tucson:

Ballet Tucson Presents The Nutcracker

Kickstart the holiday season with this lively, award-winning production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved masterpiece. Ballet Tucson’s version has all the classic components — valiant soldiers, swirling snowflakes and swaying sweets — exquisitely performed by Tucson’s resident professional ballet company and children’s ensemble and choreographed by internationally acclaimed artistic director Mary Beth Cabana. Hand-painted scrims, gem-colored velvet costumes and more than 150 local, national and international dancers also make Ballet Tucson’s The Nutcracker a must-see. Discounted tickets are available for groups, seniors, students and military.

Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Avenue, Tucson,, 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 7, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 8, 1 p.m. Sunday, December 9, $19-$58.


Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker

Moscow Ballet’s touring troupe of talented dancers puts a spellbinding twist on the classic tale with colorful, hand-crafted costumes, Russian influences and a powerful message told through mesmerizing choreography. Highlights of this unique take on The Nutcracker include Masha instead of Clara as the main character, the “Land of Peace and Harmony” instead of the traditional “Land of Sweets” and the “Dove of Peace,” a transfixing pas de deux that features Masha and the Nutcracker Prince wearing 20-foot white wings. The Great Russian Nutcracker will waltz into Phoenix and Tucson this holiday season, but be sure to snag tickets soon — sugar plum visions will only dance across the stage for one night in each city.  

Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington Street, Phoenix,, 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 12, $23.50-$147.50.

Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona, 1020 E. University Boulevard, Tucson,, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 21, $23.50-$147.50.


Ballet Arizona’s The Nutcracker 2018

Helmed by Danish dancer and choreographer Ib Andersen, Ballet Arizona’s rendition of the classic Russian production is often regarded as one of the best performances in the country. Andersen is known for going over the top, spending nearly $2 million on larger-than-life lighting, costumes, sets and special effects in his 12 years as artistic director. Audiences will be awed by 30 world-class professional ballet dancers and 150 children in the roles of angels, soldiers, mice and more, while the Phoenix Symphony plays Tchaikovsky’s famous score live. On select dates, face painting, a coloring station, storybook reading of The Nutcracker and ballet classes will be available for children an hour before the performance. Attendees can also opt to upgrade their experience with a VIP package that includes a photo with the Sugar Plum Fairy, complimentary hot chocolate and signed ballerina pointe shoes.

Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second Street, Phoenix, 602.381.1096,, various times Thursday, December 13, to Monday, December 24, $33-$193.

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker with Southwest Ballet Theatre

For the fourth year, Southwest Ballet Theatre will perform Tchaikovsky’s full-length ballet under the artistic direction of Melissa Zervas Hahne with choreography and staging by Daniel Baudendistel. Southwest Ballet Theatre is nonprofit program that provides dance training for students of varying skill levels, from preschool to pre-professional. Attendees can opt to include a small bouquet of mixed flowers to their admission for $8, while Estrella Mountain Community College students can take advantage of free entry.  

Estrella Mountain Community College’s Performing Arts Center, 3000 N. Dysart Road, Avondale,, 7 p.m. Thursday, December 13, to Saturday, December 15, 2 p.m. Sunday, December 16, $18-$32.


The Phoenix Ballet & Master Ballet Academy Presents The Nutcracker

Held at the historic Orpheum Theatre and starring internationally recognized professional dancers from the Phoenix Ballet and top students from Scottsdale’s award-winning Master Ballet Academy, Slawomir Wozniak’s The Nutcracker will captivate and inspire audiences of all ages. The ballet company’s passion for performance shines in everything from the intricate choreography to the ornate costumes, blending innovation and tradition. Those looking for a behind-the-scenes experience can purchase a Nutcracker Backstage Pass, which includes an exclusive backstage tour and meet-and-greet with the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara and the Nutcracker.

Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams Street, Phoenix, 602.534.5600,, various times Friday, December 14, to Sunday, December 16, and Thursday, December 20 to Sunday, December 23, $12.50-$85.


Southwest Youth Ballet Presents The Nutcracker

Help Southwest Youth Ballet — an East Valley pre-professional training program for students ages 13 to 18 — celebrate its 12th season with this family-friendly Christmas classic. Under the artistic guidance of renowned principal dancer Yen-Li Chen and accompanied by live music performed by the Alex Zhang-conducted Chandler Symphony Orchestra, this authentic Victorian version of The Nutcracker is sure to dazzle kids and adults.

Higley Center for the Performing Arts, 4132 E. Pecos Road, Gilbert,, 7 p.m. Friday, December 14, 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, December 15, 3 p.m. Sunday, December 16,, $10-$30.


Ballet Rincon Presents The Nutcracker Ballet

This is the 17th year Tucson’s premier classical dance school, Ballet Rincon Academy of Dance, is putting on a production of The Nutcracker, which will feature Performance Ensemble dancers, Academy students and renowned guest artists Rick Wamer, Ross Freeman and Marquez Johnson. Come early and enjoy pre-show lobby performances by The Vail Youth Symphony, saxophonist Brice Winston and his Tucson Jazz Institute Concord Combo and more.

Vail Theatre of the Arts, 10701 E. Mary Ann Cleveland Way, Tucson,, 7 p.m. Friday, December 14, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, December 15, $12-$18.


The Nutcracker & The Little Match Girl

BC Dance artistic director Cory Fragoso-Gram wanted to participate in the seasonal tradition of The Nutcracker with his twist. Three years ago, his vision came to life with the first production of The Nutcracker & The Little Match Girl, a magical holiday mash-up for the whole family. The first act of the production recounts Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fable of a young, poverty-stricken girl who lights matches to stay warm and hallucinates happy visions while she is freezing to death. In the second act, the girl transforms into Clara from The Nutcracker and her visions continue in the “Land of the Sweets,” where she witnesses the waltz of the flowers and meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, Mother Ginger and the Nutcracker Prince. BC Dance: The Ballet Conservatory of Dance Music & Art offers a comprehensive curriculum in jazz, contemporary, tap, acrobatics, music, singing and theater with a focus on classical ballet.  

Pima Community College Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road, Tucson,, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, December 15, $20-25.


The Ahwatukee Foothills Nutcracker Ballet

If you’re looking for a performance of The Nutcracker with local flare, look no further than this one-of-a-kind production of the holiday classic. It’s the Valley’s only version of The Nutcracker performed entirely by young dancers ages 3 to 21. Now in its 19th year, the Ahwatukee Foothills Nutcracker Ballet once again brings the music and magic of the season to an intimate venue at an affordable price. Kids will love a special appearance by Santa Claus and the cast following the matinee performances.

Desert Vista Fine Arts Theatre, 16440 S. 32nd Street, Phoenix, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, December 15, 2 p.m. Sunday, December 16,, $20-$40.


Tucson Regional Ballet Presents A Southwest Nutcracker with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra

Tucson Regional Ballet has become famous for its charming Southwestern take on the Russian classic. A Southwest Nutcracker takes audiences back in time to 1880s-era Tucson, complete with tumbleweeds, cowboys and rattlesnakes. Coyotes replace the mice, the Sugar Plum Fairy becomes the Prickly Pair Fairy, European Clara turns into Mexican Maria and ballet folklórico influences are infused into the dances. Professionally designed sets, one-of-a-kind costumes and a live soundtrack provided by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra make this a local Christmas tradition with a twist that’s not to be missed.

Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Avenue, Tucson,, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 15, 2 p.m. Sunday, December 16, $30-$36.


Jataba Dance Troupe’s The Nutcracker

Join Jataba Dance Troupe as it presents its 39th annual production of this Valley holiday favorite. The carefully curated cast, chosen by audition every August, consists of the Spisak Dance Academy Performance Company and Combo and K-1 ballet students. Glendale’s Spisak Dance Academy prides itself on being Arizona’s oldest and most established dance school. No cameras of any kind will be allowed during the performance, so audiences can enjoy this timeless classic free of technology.

Deer Valley High School Auditorium, 18424 N. 51st Avenue, Glendale, 602.547.0547,, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, December 22, $20.