December arrives, and The Nutcracker descends upon a vast tundra of theaters around the world with the lush and shimmering regularity of a tannenbaum and buche de noel. Chicago provides a veritable blizzard of sword-fighting mice, hoop-skirted Mother Gingers and fleet-footed Marzipans. The Lev Ivanov-Marius Petipa-Piotr I. Tchaikovsky Christmas staple — about the journey of a little girl to the Land of Snow and Kingdom of Sweets — often marks children’s first exposure to classical ballet. Despite its sugary trappings, The Nutcracker is perhaps the only ballet closely connected to the holiday season. It’s part of the venerable canon that encompasses Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Handel’s Messiah. Here’s a guide to The Nutcracker, together with alternative Yuletide dance programming, and more.
The Joffrey Ballet presents one of the most lavish productions, with an American-Victorian design, and impeccable choreography by Robert Joffrey, with special sections crafted by Gerald Arpino — the company’s late co-founders. Rotating local children’s choirs provide accompaniment in the Snow Scene. Dec. 10-26 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Call for times. Tickets: $30-$115. 800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com. More info: www.joffrey.org
Hyde Park School of Dance’s 12th annual Nutcracker, with choreography by August Tye, includes students of all ages sharing the stage with guest artists. Dec. 10 at 10 a.m.; Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. at Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St. Tickets: $7-$17. 773-493-8498 or www.hydeparkdance.org.
Salt Creek Ballet celebrates its 25th anniversary with this high-caliber staging, which combines pre-professional dancers and guest artists from Colorado Ballet: Bolshoi-trained Maria Mosina and Perm State Ballet graduate Alexi Tyukiv as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, respectively. Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the Center for the Performing Arts, Governors State University, 1 University Pkwy., University Park. Tickets: $15-$40. 708-534-5000. Dec. 18 and 19 at 3 p.m. at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Tickets: $30-$38. 847-673-6300 or www.northshorecenter.org. More info: www.saltcreekballet.org.
Civic Ballet of Chicago combines pre-show “Clara’s Christmas Tea Parties” with its very child-friendly performances. Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. (Tea at 11 a.m.) and Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. (Tea at 1 p.m.) at Elgin Community College Arts Center, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin. Performance tickets: $15-$25; Tea tickets:$12-$15. 847-622-0300. More info: www.Civic-Ballet.com.
Ballet Chicago favors George Balanchine’s slightly streamlined version, with Elly Green of the Royal Danish Ballet and Hamilton Nieh of Luna Negra Dance Theater guesting as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 19 at 3 p.m. at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: $12-$30. 800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com. More info: www.balletchicago.org.
Von Heidecke’s Chicago Festival Ballet, under the direction of Kenneth von Heidecke, offers a sophisticated interpretation. Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 18 at 2 p.m.and 7 p.m.; Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. at the College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center, 245 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn. Tickets: $27-$37. 630-942-4000 or www.atthemac.org. More info: www.chicagofestivalballet.com.
Other Seasonal Offerings
Chicago Tap Theatre’s Tidings of Tap!, with its variety-show format, opts for a rhythmic multi-denominational celebration of winter and the holidays, including a popular tap a cappella version of Carol of the Bells. Dec. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m; Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. at the University of Illinois Chicago Theater, 1044 W. Harrison. Tickets: $18-$30. 800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com. More info: www.chicagotaptheatre.com.
Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater, now in its 35th season, presents its annual Concierto Familiar, or family holiday concert, with highlights of classical, folkloric and Flamenco dances and music of Spain. Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Northeastern Illinois University Auditorium, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave. (entrance at 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.). Tickets: $10-$25. 773-442-4636. More info: www.EnsembleEspanol.org.
DanceBridge Showcase, a free showing of works in progress at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Dance Studio (78 E. Washington St.), features Carrie Hanson of The Seldoms and her continuing explorations in movement of America’s enduring recession; and Ginger Krebs’ Myth and Continent, a dance reflection on how the abundance of virtual imagery changes our relationship to our bodies and to the space around them. Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. More info: www.chicagoculturalcenter.org.