BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
diehard Nutcracker fans can always find something to like about the holiday classic. Each production features unique choreography, and often tells the story in a quite different way.
In the usual narrative, the young girl, Clara (sometimes she has another name), receives a toy soldier nutcracker during a Christmas Eve party, then later in a kind of dream sequence triggers his transformation into the Nutcracker Prince by tossing her slipper at a giant mouse. Clara and the prince go to the Land of the Sweets, where they're entertained by the Sugarplum Fairy, Candy Canes, Mother Comedia and Polichnelles and dancers from many lands.
But you never know what you're going to get. I remember a Sarasota Ballet production some years ago that opened in a modern dance studio, eventually wound up on another planet and dispensed almost entirely with the family flavor of the traditional Nutcracker.
The one constant is Tchaikovsky's magnificent score. Unfortunately, few dance presenters can afford The Nutcracker with live music and use recordings. That makes this weekend's performances with the Florida Orchestra at Ruth Eckerd Hall a highlight.
Snowflakes and toy soldiers will reach a critical mass in the days leading up to Christmas, with four stage productions in the Tampa Bay area, as well as a legendary Russian company in the ballet on film at the Beach Theatre. Here are the offerings:
• Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg presents the Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker. Choreographer Anatoli Emelianov's version sets Act 2 not in the Land of the Sweets but in the Land of Peace and Harmony. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday at 400 First St. S. $25-$85. (727) 892-5767; mahaffeytheater.com.
• St. Petersburg Ballet stages Suzanne Pomerantzeff's Nutcracker, which features about 100 children and young adults from the community. Guest artists include Daniel Johnson, Erik Wagner and Gerald Watson. 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $10-$20. (727) 822-3590; mypalladium.org.
• Moscow Classic Ballet performs with the Florida Orchestra at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. Here's where to hear favorite parts of the score — I always look forward to the dissonant chord that signals Drosselmeyer's entrance — played by live musicians. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $30, $40. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerdhall.com.
• The Nutcracker premiered in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, so it's fitting that the Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg can be seen performing it at the Beach Theatre, 315 Corey Ave., St. Pete Beach, at 7 p.m. Sunday. The production was filmed in the Mariinsky Theatre, the historic stage where the ballet was first performed, with choreography by Kirill Simonov and the Kirov Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. $15. (727) 360-6697; beach-theatre.com.
• Orlando Ballet dances its Nutcracker, with choreography by Fernando Bujones, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. The cast includes about 100 students from Tampa and Orlando. $22-$65. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; tbpac.org.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.