OGDEN — Seems like, these days, you can’t swing a dead Rat King without hitting yet another “Nutcracker” production.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
After all, “The Nutcracker” is arguably the most beloved ballet on the planet, and with good reason. An enchanting story, spectacular costumes and sets, otherworldly dancing and unparalleled music make for an unforgettable experience. Plus which, the annual staging of “Nutcracker” at the holidays has become every bit a tradition as trimming the tree.
“It’s very traditional throughout the ballet world,” said Adam Sklute, artistic director for Ballet West. “A ‘Nutcracker’ during the holiday season has become one of the biggest traditions.”
Amid this flurry of community performances, ballet school recitals, and regional and national dance companies, one production stands above the rest: Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker.”
It’s the grande dame of the ballet world.
“This ‘Nutcracker’ is the oldest full-length version of ‘Nutcracker’ created in America,” Sklute said.
Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker” comes to Weber State University this weekend, with performances at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, in the Browning Center’s Austad Auditorium. The three performances are sponsored by the Ogden Symphony Ballet Association.
The “Nutcracker” production that Ballet West presents each year was first choreographed by Brigham City native Willam Christensen. “Mr. C,” as Sklute and others refer to him, was founder of both San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, and the original production debuted in San Francisco back in 1944.
A decade later, when Christensen moved back to Utah, he began presenting his version of the iconic piece with Ballet West, starting in 1955.
“Since then, it has had the longest unbroken run of any ‘Nutcracker’ in America, and possibly even — although I don’t have facts for this — the world,” Sklute said.
Last year, Ballet West commissioned a sweeping renovation for the beloved ballet.
“We did a facelift, is a great way of putting it,” Sklute said.
The two-year, $3-million overhaul included all new sets, costumes and props. Sklute said they tried to remain true to Christensen’s original vision throughout the process.
“The sets we’d been using were 30 years old,” Sklute said. “They were beautiful — don’t get me wrong — but everybody needs a new set of clothes every once in a while.”
This was the fifth set of costumes done since the original 1944 performances, but the first since Christensen’s death in 2001. Sklute says that fact put a bit more pressure on the renovations this time around.
“It’s the first one without Mr. C,” he said. “I wanted to do right by his version of ‘The Nutcracker.’”
Sklute said that although all “Nutcracker” performances are slightly different, they all share one very important aspect.
“We know the music is basically the same — the great Tchaikovsky score we hear on the radio, in malls, everywhere,” he said.
What’s more, the story is fairly universal among ballet companies.
“There might be some mavericks out there who tell the story a little different, but the story is one that American families have grown to love,” he said.
If he had to guess, Sklute said he suspects “The Nutcracker” may be the most-performed ballet on earth. And there’s a very good reason for that.
“Because it is wonderful for families, for children, for serious art aficionados, for people who know nothing about dance. It just works,” he said. “If you’re a kid and you’ve never seen a ballet before, you’re going to go, ‘Oh my gosh! That’s beautiful — or hilarious, or scary.’”
While it may be true that “The Nutcracker” is the only ballet many Utahns have ever seen, Sklute said this season would be a good one to expand that resume.
“This is the perfect year,” Sklute said. “We’re thrilled to do ‘Nutcracker’ in Ogden, but if you really got inspired from that and wanted to see another ballet, you should come to Salt Lake City in February.”
That’s when Ballet West will follow up “The Nutcracker” with “Swan Lake.”
“If ‘Nutcracker’ is the most-performed ballet, then the next most-performed is ‘Swan Lake,’” Sklute said.
“Swan Lake” — like “The Nutcracker” — offers incredible music by Tchaikovsky, according to Sklute. But it also involves a “melodramatic, high-drama story” about a prince who falls in love with an enchanted princess.
“Where ‘The Nutcracker’ will warm your heart, ‘Swan Lake’ will break your heart,” Sklute said.
Tickets to Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker” are $10 to $45, available at symphonyballet.org or 801-399-9214.