The lights dim, and the curtains open as audience members scramble to their seats. For the next two hours, dancers rush across the stage in an elegant frenzy, perfectly in time with Tchaikovsky’s famous melodies. For many, attending a performance of The Nutcracker is a favorite holiday season tradition.

The Nutcracker, a ballet adaption of the short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is set in early 19th-century Germany. The ballet begins at a Christmas Eve party, where the young protagonist, Clara (some companies call her Marie), receives a nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeier. That night, she is transported to an enchanting dreamland, and her nutcracker turns into a prince. Clara and her prince fend off the evil Rat King, visit a magical snow-filled forest, and travel to the Land of the Sweets, meeting an eccentric cast of characters along the way.

As a production, The Nutcracker is a very effortful ballet. With several set changes and intricate costumes, not to mention the pressure of performing such a beloved ballet, The Nutcracker certainly takes work to put on. Furthermore, the ballet is very taxing on dancers. Because The Nutcracker is a major source of revenue, ballet companies often require dancers to learn multiple roles and dance in back-to-back performances for many days in a row. This often leads to increased fatigue and injury among dancers, highlighting existing safety concerns within the ballet community. For all its grace and beauty, The Nutcracker is an incredibly demanding ballet to produce, making an excellent performance all the more impressive.

Boston is lucky to be home to the highly-ranked ballet company, Boston Ballet, which performs The Nutcracker annually. This year, the ballet opened on November 24th and ran through December. Like all of Boston Ballet’s major productions, The Nutcracker was performed at the Boston Opera House. The choreography arranged by the company’s artistic director, Mikko Nissinen, was nothing short of his usual brilliance. Engaging and exciting, Nissinen has an innate ability to breathe life into old ballets, and this year’s The Nutcracker was no different. Opening night saw standout performances from many members of the company, including John Lam as Uncle Drosslemeier, Alexander Nicolosi as Mother Ginger, and Viktorina Kapitonova as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and each brought their own flair and personality to their respective roles.

Following the pandemic, Boston Ballet has shifted from casting ballet students as Clara to having professional dancers play the role. This initially controversial decision has proven to be a wise one. Chisaka Oga, a principal dancer with the company, has performed as Clara for the past two years, bringing playfulness and energy to the role. Unlike many students, Oga can perform the role en pointe (in pointe shoes), allowing for more dynamic choreography.

As is the custom in The Nutcracker, children still play a big role in Boston Ballet’s production, cast in many parts throughout the ballet. As Abbie Deng ’25, a former student at Boston Ballet School, noted, “For me, part of the tradition is going back and seeing people that I know”. She recalled that her favorite role to dance was either a soldier or a party girl. The emphasis on children in The Nutcracker sets it apart from so many other ballets - few other classical ballets are as whimsical or as youthful as The Nutcracker.

A colorful and festive ballet, The Nutcracker invites the audience to let go of their inhibitions and indulge in its fantasy. For some, few things are as magical as the first time seeing The Nutcracker. However, Boston Ballet’s 2023 production might come close. This year’s performances were fresh and upbeat yet honored the tradition that is so beloved. Boston Ballet will continue to reimagine the show each year, but one thing is for certain: The Nutcracker isn’t going anywhere.