And so we come to it, that moment in our annual revolution ‘round the sun when the weather turns chilly, Scotch pines are piled three–deep in front of every grocery store, and you can’t flip on the radio without hearing Andy Williams crooning “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
It’s beginning to look at lot like Nutcracker season.
Sure enough, this week brings a double helping of ballet goodness in the form of two productions of Nutcracker, both on the same day, both bound and determined to stuff our collective stockings with holiday cheer and the timeless music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Columbia City Ballet makes its annual Nutcracker pilgrimage to the Johnny Mercer Theatre Saturday, Nov. 24 at 5:30 p.m. The professional company will be augmented by dozens of local dancing children, all of whom have been in rehearsal for several months.
At 2 and 8 p.m., the Savannah Danse Theatre is at the Lucas Theatre with its specially–adapted The Nutcracker in Savannah. This one uses Savannah locales and famous names as touchstones.
What do these two productions have in common? Well, the story is essentially the same — a little girl named Clara has strange and vivid Christmas dreams, mice and soldiers do balletic battle, and the day is saved by the beautiful, lithe and uber–graceful Sugar Plum Fairy.
Both 2012 Sugar Plums are closely connected with Columbia City Ballet.
“I think the Sugar Plum Fairy is good because it’s a commanding role,” explains Columbia principal dancer Regina Willoughby. “In essence, she’s in charge of the Land of the Sweets. I have a very strong personality type, so that comes naturally to me.
“But the sweet, delicate feel that the Sugar Plum Fairy has is a challenge for me. And over the years, it’s become more and more comfortable. Now, I look forward to it.”
For the past four years, the Savannah Danse Theatre production has been choreographed by Joulia Moiseeva, who teaches at Columbia. She dances Sugar Plum in their production.
She’s a native of Russia who danced with the Moscow Festival Ballet, the Kremlin Ballet Company and the Modern Theater (in the Czech Republic). She and her husband came to the United States in 1996.
“The same role in Russia is completely different from in the United States,” Moiseeva says. “In the United States, the Sugar Plum dances only in pas de deux. It’s a classical pas de deux, and some difference there with each company. But only pas de deux.
“In Russia it is more interesting because there is a small Clara, and she dances the pas de deux. The principal dancers go from the very beginning to the end of ballet. More energy, more emotion. Here it’s very different — principals go in at the end of the performance and dance in classical pas de deux, and that’s it.”
The ballerinas have very different views on the positioning of Nutcracker as a Yuletide perennial.
“I like Tchaikovsky’s music,” says Moiseeva. “I like Swan Lake, I like Nutcracker. In the United States, everybody’s attention is on Christmas, this Christmas story.
“In Russia, it’s not. Some ballet, like Swan Lake, we will sometimes dance during Christmas only, this ballet. But in June, we dance this — we don’t prepare as Christmas story, ever.
“In the United States it’s a very big deal — Christmas, Nutcracker. Actually, I don’t like this. Because so many companies dance it, and sometimes you don’t feel the flavor of this music. Around Christmas, you listen to this music everywhere. Everywhere. Actually, this story is very dark, and kind of sad. It’s not happiness.”
Willoughby, who’s originally from Texas, disagrees. “We’re so fortunate that Tchaikovsky’s score is absolutely breathtaking,” she says. “Beautiful, beautiful music. So no matter how many times I hear the music for all of Nutcracker, I say ‘Yeah, I’ll go Christmas shopping afterwards ...’ And the role itself is such a challenge, because it’s very, very technically difficult — for me, I really thrive on a challenge.
“And also, the Nutcracker was one of the first ballets that I saw as a child. I was 8 years old, and our school brought us to the theater. It was what made me say ‘Ah! This is what I want to do. I want to be a ballet dancer.’”
Savannah Danse Theatre: The Nutcracker in Savannah
Where: Lucas Theatre, 34 Abercorn St.
When: At 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24
Tickets: $12 (matinee); $15–$35 (evening), at savannahboxoffice.com
Columbia City Ballet: The Nutcracker
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
When: At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24
Tickets: $18–$35, at etix.com