Melanie Robinson Profile

Ah the holidays. A time for cheer, caroling and racking up credit card debt. Nonexistent disposable income aside, there are a few traditions in American culture that define our end-of-year celebrations.

Arguably one of the most popular ballets in the world, “The Nutcracker,” has all of the elements of a successful production during the holiday season: a child-friendly narrative centered on a small girl, elaborate sets, gigantic tutus, magic and a whimsical atmosphere. It is a story every individual can recite by heart and has usually seen at least once.

A scene from ARTS San Antonio's production of "The Nutcracker." Photo by Greg Harrison.
A scene from ARTS San Antonio’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Photo by Greg Harrison/ARTS San Antonio.

Three powerhouses dominate “The Nutcracker” empire in San Antonio: Ballet San Antonio, ARTS San Antonio/San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet and The Moscow Ballet. What is the difference, you ask? Why does a city need more than one version, you ask? Why so much ballet squeezed into December, you ask? Fear not, performing arts supporter. You are not alone in the bewilderment.

I, who have worked and sat through more performances of the ballet than you can shake a Sugar Plum Fairy’s wand at, offer you a beginner’s guide of sorts through the enchanted journey of selecting which Nutcracker is best for you.

First, please take note that quality and quantity of performing arts productions should be encouraging rather than alarming. Look to Houston or New York City or Chicago for evidence. A patron’s level of sophistication increases with each event attended, so theoretically more performances equates to a more engaged and informed audience.

Presenting companies offer different perspectives from which to view performances. You should consider yourself blessed to have three options to choose from. After all, choices are never really bad things. Let yourself decide the best performance for you.

Local companies such as Ballet SA are usually focused on cultivating support for local art while presenters like ARTS SA and The Moscow Ballet bring outside talent direct to an audience that may not have had access to globally significant performances. An important difference to note between these examples, however, is the idea of a touring company. ARTS SA and Ballet SA are San Antonio-based performing arts nonprofits, whereas The Moscow Ballet, based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is presenting its 21st annual North American tour of the “Great Russian Nutcracker” and making a stop in San Antonio along the way.

Backstage at the Majestic with Ballet San Antonio during "The Nutcracker" dress rehearsal. Photo by Page Graham.
Backstage at the Majestic with Ballet San Antonio during “The Nutcracker” dress rehearsal. Photo by Page Graham. Credit: Page Graham for the Rivard Report

Ballet San Antonio kicked off the glitter-filled Tchaikovsky fest at the Majestic Theatre from Nov. 29 through Dec. 3. Tickets for their remaining performances Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. are available at www.ticketmaster.com.

Ballet SA’s version of the holiday classic features choreography adapted by the company’s own Artistic Director Gabriel Zertuche as dancers pirouette and plié alongside the San Antonio symphony. Children’s roles are filled with local dancers who auditioned at the Ballet Conservatory of South Texas in September. The company recently presented “Cinderella” and will be performing “Firebird” in February.

ARTS SA’s version of “The Nutcracker is up next at the Lila Cockrell Theatre and the production which I know best as marketing assistant for the local nonprofit. ARTS SA’s version is performed by Mejia Ballet International, directed by former New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Paul Mejia and focuses heavily on the quality of dancing. The principal dancers are Russian-trained soloists with resumes that would impress even the most demanding audience member.

A scene from ARTS San Antonio's production of "The Nutcracker." Photo by Greg Harrison/ARTS San Antonio.
A scene from ARTS San Antonio’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Photo by Greg Harrison/ARTS San Antonio.

This performance also features children’s roles filled by dancers from auditions held in September organized by San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet, whom ARTS SA works with with on this production. Performances are on Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m. For more information visit www.artssa.org. Other productions on the horizon include Pilobolus Dance Theater and the edgy violinist Amadéus Leopold.

“The Great Russian Nutcracker performed by The Moscow Ballet will be at The Majestic Theatre on Dec. 23 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and on Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. The tour features a company of 40 dancers averaging 100 performances annually during November and December. The Moscow Ballet also presents major story ballets on North American tours, including “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella.” For more information visit www.nutcracker.com.

A scene from The Moscow Ballet's "Great Russian Nutcracker," The prince in the snow forest. Photo courtesy of The Moscow Ballet.
A scene from The Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” The prince in the snow forest. Photo courtesy of The Moscow Ballet.

With the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts‘ completion on the horizon (Fall 2014), excitement for an increased interest in the performing arts is palpable. More people are making an effort to support art in person to enjoy the magic that only a live performance can offer.

The Nutcracker” is unique in that it is accessible to a wide variety of patrons. Children and adults from all walks of life can appreciate the visual splendor and the simple story line that whisks them from reality for a couple of hours. It is an introduction to the arts that can spark an interest in – and support of – other productions. Every person that attends an event is bringing more attention to an industry we all love, value and promote.

While this information may be overwhelming to your average citizen, the bottom line is that there are lots of dates to choose from. If a few performances are available to you, do the research. Learn who is presenting each Nutcracker and decide for yourself which presenter or company best fits what you are looking for.

Melanie Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in professional writing and a minor in anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.

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Melanie Robinson

Melanie Robinson is a San Antonian writer, poet and musician who currently works as the content writer for Tribu, a digital marketing firm, and freelances for the Rivard Report, San Antonio Current and...