The martial Nutcracker may have triumphed over the Mouse King in their first North American skirmish, but the production was hardly a winner when the San Francisco Ballet first presented the Russian import to the war-weary public in the winter of 1944. The response was so underwhelming that the next year the company, looking to established a holiday season tentpole, went back to “Hansel and Gretel,” which had received a similarly lukewarm reception in 1943.
Given another shot in 1946, William Christensen’s resetting of “The Nutcracker” started to catch on, launching the ballet’s ongoing reign as an unstoppable cultural juggernaut.
More than a holiday tradition, “The Nutcracker” has become a ubiquitous American phenomenon. Supremely malleable, the ballet retains its magic even as countless choreographers have attempted, and still attempt, to put their own stamp on the tale, drawing new details from the E. T. A. Hoffmann story that inspired the libretto, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”
Some versions add or subtract characters, change the setting, or edit the plot, though every “Nutcracker” worth its sugarplums retains some version of Tchaikovsky’s enchanting score.
A gateway to dance and classical music for children, a holiday ritual for families, and a fiscal lifeline for dance companies large and small, “The Nutcracker” retains its magic by offering a domestic fantasy that encompasses the world from the safety of home. It’s not the only seasonal dance staple, but there’s no competition on the horizon challenging its dominance.
San Francisco Ballet “Nutcracker”: Company artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s take on the classic, now in its 19th year, sets the celebratory proceedings in San Francisco. Besides 83 company dancers, the production features 110 S.F. Ballet School children performers, live musical accompaniment as well as 150 pounds of artificial snow. Details: Dec. 8-27; War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco; $19-$465; 415-865-2000, www.sfballet.org.
Mark Foehringer’s Dance Project|SF: “Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets” is a well-known Bay Area tradition, abridged to 50 minutes with younger viewers in mind. Details: Dec. 3-18. Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, San Francisco. $22.50-$44.50; nutcrackersweets.org.
San Jose Dance Theatre “The Original San Jose Nutcracker”: Dec. 8-18; San Jose Center for the Performing Arts; $44-$95; www.sjdt.org/the-nutcracker.
Oakland Ballet Company: “Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker,” created by the company artistic director, follows Hoffmann’s original story line and includes the Oakland Symphony and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir. Details: 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 17, 1 p.m. Dec. 18; Paramount Theatre, Oakland; $33-$127; oaklandballet.org.
Berkeley City Ballet “Nutcracker”: 2 and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 17-18; BCB Studio Theater, Berkeley; $20-$25; berkeleycityballet.org.
New Ballet: “The San Jose Nutcracker” sets the action in — where else — San Jose, complete with historical references to the city and Silicon Valley. Includes live orchestra. There is also a 45-minute version for young viewers. Details: Dec. 16-18; California Theatre, San Jose. $25-$95; www.newballet.com.
Smuin Ballet “The Christmas Ballet”: OK, this is NOT a “Nutcracker.” But the company’s production is nonetheless a treasured staple of the Bay Area holiday dance scene, with several new and beloved works ranging from playful to poignant. Details: Dec. 1-4 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Mountain View; Dec. 9-10 at Sunset Center, Carmel; Dec. 14-24 at Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA, San Francisco; $25-$99; www.smuinballet.org.
Marin Ballet “Nutcracker”: 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 10, 1 p.m. Dec. 11; Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael; $34/$55; marinballet.org.
Black Diamond Ballet “Nutcracker”: The company’s annual production is a mix of professional dancers and young ballet students. Details: Dec. 10-18; El Campanil Theatre, Antioch; $20-$35; www.blackdiamondballet.org.
San Francisco’s Youth Ballet “The Nutcracker”: 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 3-4; Chinese American International School, San Francisco; $24-$26; sanfranciscoyouthballet.org.
Valley Dance Theatre: The company’s full-length, opulent production, accompanied by Valley Dance Theatre Pit Orchestra, has been a favorite of the Tri-Valley holiday scene for 41 years. Details: Dec. 10-18; Bankhead Theater, Livermore; $35-45; www.valleydancetheatre.com.
Western Ballet “The Nutcracker”: Dec. 9-11; Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Mountain View; $38-$43; mvcpa.com.
Contra Costa Ballet: The company’s family-friendly take on “The Nutcracker” is a colorful, swift 60-minute production. Details: Nov. 25-27; Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek; $45; www.contracostaballet.org.
Peninsula Ballet Theatre: The company offers three versions of the classic ballet. A full-length “Nutcracker” (7 p.m. Dec. 16 and 2 p.m. Dec. 17; Fox Theatre, Redwood City; $50-$70); an abridged “Nutcracker Sweet” (six performances Dec. 3-4, Peninsula Ballet Theatre, San Mateo; $25-$35); and a “Hip-Hop Nutcracker Sweet” (six performances Dec. 10-11; Peninsula Ballet Theatre); www.peninsulaballet.org
San Francisco Chamber Orchestra: The outfit’s kid-centered “Nutcracker Sweet” incorporates puppetry performed by members of Children’s Fairyland of Oakland’s popular Puppet Company. Details: 2 p.m. Nov. 26 at Noe Valley Ministry, San Francisco; 11 a.m. Nov. 27 at Freight and Salvage, Berkeley;
3 p.m. Nov. 27 at Mitchell Park, Palo Alto; all performance are free; www.thesfco.org.
USCDA and New Century Dance: Presents “Nutcracker in China”; 7 p.m. December 30-31; Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Mountain View. $27-$30; www.newcenturydance.com.
San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band: The company presents its annual Dance-Along Nutcracker production, “Snowbound.” Details: Dec. 17-18; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, San Francisco; $25-$60; dance-along-nutcracker.sflgfb.org.
Bayer Ballet Company: The troupe’s holiday dance show “Snow Queen” is an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Details: Dec. 16-18; Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Mountain View; $38-$78; www.bayerballet.com.
ODC/Dance: The company has been serving up its popular adaptation of the Mergery Williams kids book “The Velveteen Rabbit” since 1986. The production features narration by Geoff Hoyle, and costumes and sets by Brian Wildsmith. Details: Nov. 26-Dec. 11; Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA, San Francisco; $15-$100; odc.dance.
Marin Dance Theatre “Sophie and the Enchanted Toyshop”: 5 p.m. Dec. 17, 2 p.m. Dec. 18; Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael; $34-$55; www.mdt.org.