Legendary dancer and choreographer George Balanchine grew up with “The Nutcracker,” playing the lead roles, in turn, of the Little Prince, the Mouse King and a hoop-holding jester, on a lavishly outfitted St. Petersburg stage in his native Russia. The Tchaikovsky ballet, with all its Christmas Eve trappings, from sugar plums to mistletoe, held a special place in the grand master’s heart, as the holiday time was one of few that brought his family together.
Fifty years ago, Balanchine premiered his celebrated adaptation of the magical tale at Lincoln Center, with its wondrously growing Christmas tree. It was his “Nutcracker,” as noted by Laura Jacobs in Vanity Fair in 2014, “that launched the hundreds of ‘Nutcracker’ ballets that now dominate America’s Decembers.”
But few companies share the strong connection to Balanchine’s production as the New York Dance Theatre’s performance this weekend at Hofstra University’s John Cranford Adams Playhouse, under the artistic direction of Frank Ohman. “I have so much to draw on,” says Ohman, 78, who played various roles in the holiday classic as a lead dancer and soloist in Balanchine’s New York City Ballet for 22 years. At Hofstra, audiences can spot him in the opening party scene playing the grandfather of Clara and Fritz.
Ohman’s Commack-based company is one of only a select few with permission to use Balanchine’s original choreography for the always highly anticipated pas de deux performed by the lovely Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier. Guest artists Daniel Ulbricht, a principal in the New York City Ballet, and Brittany Pollack, a soloist in the city company, star as the majestic duo.
Ohman also pays tribute to his mentor by replicating his predilection for “tinkering” with the “Nutcracker” program, adding scenes set to music from other Tchaikovsky works. “In the first act, I added a solo danced by Clara to a lullaby written by Tchaikovsky when he was a conservatory student,” Ohman says.
“Time stops, the party guests freeze and the dance is in her mind. It’s a bit of foreshadowing of the dream that comes later in the ballet.”
Other welcome tweaks include the appearance of baby mice as a prelude to the first act battle scene, tiny twirling snowflakes and a charming bear doll who dances to music from “Swan Lake,” showcasing the breadth of his company’s ages and talent. Drawing from across Long Island, the young dancers alternating in the title roles of Clara and Fritz hail from Melville to Kings Park, including one student who did her first plié at the Ohman School at age 2.
The ever-creative Ohman, with more than 200 original ballets to his credit, is planning more “Nutcracker” parts for his students in the future. “You know in Hollywood they do a lot of sequels, you find out what happens next with these characters that you have become engaged with, but no one’s ever done a sequel to a ballet,” he says. “It would be a story about Clara and Fritz after all of this has happened. I hope to honor Mr. Balanchine’s legacy and keep it going however I can.”
WHEN | WHERE Noon and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, John Cranford Adams Playhouse, Hofstra University, Hempstead Turnpike, Hempstead
INFO $32 to $42; 631-462-0964, ohmanballet.org
WHAT While attending a performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet has become a popular family holiday tradition, so too has the inclusion of the timeless Tchaikovsky classic in many ballet companies’ repertoires. The Seiskaya Ballet’s lavish production, choreographed by its Russian-born founder, Valia Seiskaya, comes to the Staller Center this weekend for its 22nd seasonal appearance. The magical adventure, with its colorful cast of toy soldiers, waltzing snowflakes and dancing candy canes, is the perfect vehicle to showcase the broad range of talent in Seiskaya’s 100-person corps, from the youngest Christmas party guests to the Long Island company’s principal dancers.
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Friday and Monday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday, Staller Center for the Arts,
100 Nicolls Rd., Stony Brook
INFO $30 to $40; 631-632-2787, nutcrackerballet.com