- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

'Tis the season for "The Nutcracker," a holiday tradition for many children with its Christmas setting and storybook tale of Clara and her nutcracker-turned-prince who defeats the evil Mouse King.
Many dance companies in the Washington area are performing variations of the creation, which is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. "The Nutcracker" ballet dates to 1891, when the legendary choreographer Marius Petipa commissioned Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky to write the music for it.
The Washington Ballet, true to its 40-year tradition, is performing the Christmas favorite at Warner Theatre, 13th and E streets NW. The show features a cast of 200, with professional dancers from the company in the lead roles and students from the Washington School of Ballet as mice, dolls, snowflakes and children attending the Christmas party.
"It's a traditional production that stays pretty true to the score," Washington Ballet spokeswoman Judy Keyserling says. "It's magic and charming It's a yuletide tradition for families."
But it's not just a family tradition. Among the Washington Ballet's most loyal audience members are the District's Girl Scouts, who have been coming to see the ballet by the thousands in the past few years.
The organization has even started buying whole performances (this year it purchased the Dec. 9 performance for about 1,800 Girl Scouts) to accommodate all the local girls who want to see Clara and her valiant Nutcracker.
"It's been a phenomenal success," says Deborah Dupree, manager of program development for the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital. "We know our girls love the arts, and we want to give them an opportunity to see and experience as much as possible."
A "Nutcracker" of a very different kind will be performed at 8 tonight and 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at Hine Junior High School on Capitol Hill.
It has swing, groove and bounce with Duke Ellington's version of Tchaikovsky's score, including songs such as "Sugar Rum Cherry" and "Waltz of the Flowers," Frank Sinatra tunes and hip-hop tracks.
Local children of all ages, members of the Momentum Dance Theatre and a break dance trio named Pure Energy are among performers in the presentation with the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.
Director, choreographer and dancer Roberta Rothstein has changed the story to reflect the importance not only of imagination but also of art and its influential role in our lives.
"The message is that art has the power to transform lives," Ms. Rothstein says.
Instead of Clara, she has two main characters: Caitlin, danced by 11-year-old Caitlin Nettleton of Northeast, and Ricardo, played by 11-year-old Ricardo Brown, also of Northeast.
The two children, whose parents are either getting drunk or flirting with others at the Christmas party, receive a notebook and drawing pad instead of a Nutcracker.
The gift-giving Drosselmeyer character, with dancer Dario Moore in the role, encourages the two to be creative. He points to the head of the shy Caitlin and says, "There is magic here." He then points to the mischievous Ricardo's head and says the same.
"Remember, art is magic and magic is art," he says as he gives the gifts to Ricardo and Caitlin. "Write your story. Draw from your heart. See what you can do."
Among other variations of "The Nutcracker" is the 45-minute, highlights version at Alexandria's Athenaeum, performed by members of the Alexandria Ballet. The first act is basically cut out and the performance starts with Clara's dream. After each performance, dancers offer candy canes to all children.
Another classic performance is presented by the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, which is performing the tale at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. Accompanying the dancers will be the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra with guest conductor Charles Rosekrans.
The two-hour performance is a "traditional rendering," says Henry Holth, executive director of the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, and includes 100 dancers and musicians.
But whether a performance of "The Nutcracker" is traditional or new, big or small, professional or amateur, the story may help both children and adults get into that holiday spirit, which may not arrive as easily this year as in the past.
"Art is more than just window dressing. We need to recognize that art can help us get through difficult and uncertain times such as these," Ms. Rothstein says. "It can make us feel better."
Performances described above:
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop/Momentum Dance Theatre: "The Jazz, Hip-Hop Nutcracker," at Hine Junior High School at Pennsylvania Avenue and 8th Street SE, 8 tonight and 5:30 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for children younger than 12 years. Phone: 202/547-6839.
Washington Ballet: "The Nutcracker," at the Warner Theatre, 13th and E streets NW, 2 and 7 p.m. today, 1 and 5 p.m. tomorrow, 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 22 and 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 23. Tickets cost $27 to $45. Phone: 202/432-SEAT.
Alexandria Ballet: "The Nutcracker," at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria, noon, 1:30, 3 and 4:30 p.m. today and tomorrow as well as Dec. 22 and 23. Tickets cost $9 for children and $10 for adults. Reservations are needed. Phone: 703/548-0035.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland: "The Nutcracker," at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis; 2 and 7 p.m. today and 3 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets cost $20 to $39. Phone: 410/263-2909.
Other "Nutcracker" performances:
National Ballet Company: Prince George's Community College Hallam Theater, 301 Largo Road, Largo. Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and "The Ellington Nutcracker," program rotates between performances, 10:30 a.m. next Wednesday through Friday and 7:30 p.m. Friday. $15 to $30. 301/261-0261.
National Ballet Company: University of Maryland, College Park, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University Boulevard and Adelphi Road, College Park. Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and "The Ellington Nutcracker." Program rotates between performances. 7:30 tonight, 3 p.m. today and tomorrow and 10:30 a.m. Monday and Tuesday. Tickets cost $15 to $30. 301/405-ARTS.
Puppet Co. Playhouse: 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. "The Nutcracker" in puppet form. 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Wednesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Through Dec. 30. Tickets cost $5. 301/320-6668.
Manassas Dance Company: Stonewall Jackson Senior High School, 8860 Rixlew Lane, Manassas. 7 p.m. today and 5 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets cost $8 to $20. 703/257-1811.
Maryland Youth Ballet: Montgomery College, Parilla Performing Arts Center, 51 Mannakee St., Rockville. 7 p.m. Friday to Dec. 23, 26 and 29; 1 p.m. Dec. 22, 23, 26 to 29. Tickets cost $13 to $20. 301/652-2232.

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