Photo by Rich Sofranko

Benedum Center for the Performing Arts

December 4 – 27
Various times

Meeting at the Kauffman’s clock. Seeing the lights at Hartwood. Ice skating at PPG. Adding to this list of cherished Pittsburgh holiday traditions is the incomparable experience of attending Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre‘s The Nutcracker.

Photo by Rich Sofranko
Photo by Rich Sofranko

Set to Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score and staged amidst the glowing holiday décor of a Cultural District landmark, the beloved Christmas story comes to life for 24 magical nights in December.

During the lavish production, audiences of all ages will be taken on a dreamlike journey to a magical kingdom populated by evocative dolls, more than 100 dancers, moonlit snow scene, Pittsburgh-themed environs and more. Ballet fans and newbies alike will be dazzled by the iconic choreography—from the wondrous Waltz of the Snowflakes to the pristine Sugarplum Fairy pas de deux.

What’s new for this age-old classic?

Inspired by area landmarks and traditions, PBT has put a local twist on one of the world’s most popular ballets. This year, PBT’s Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr is introducing several new exciting elements, including additional dancers in the Waltz of the Flowers, a redesign of the Rat King’s ornate headpiece and some unexpected surprises during the famed Party and Battle scenes.

Photo by Rich Sofranko
Photo by Rich Sofranko

The most dramatic new aspect is possibly the ballet’s brand new Christmas tree, which begins to grow during Act I. For the elaborate set, PBT has commissioned a customized, hand-crafted drop that is increasing the tree’s height and amplifying its special effects.

Each year, Orr and his talented team weave in new dimensions and add intricate nuances to the massive, textured production, which has endured as a Pittsburgh icon for 14 years. Starting in 2002, Orr reimagined the ballet by adding an unexpected love story, more complex choreography and a uniquely Pittsburgh setting.

This year’s whimsical production features elaborate costumes and vivid sets created by Emmy Award-winning theatrical designer Zack Brown. Under the direction of costumier Janet Groom Campbell, more than 200 costumes were built in-house at the PBT’s costume shop—from bold bumblebees and flowers to romantic white tutus.

Both the set design and storyline reflect popular Pittsburgh landmarks, and audiences should look out for dramatic views of Mt. Washington and a carousel inspired by local historic amusement parks.

Photo by Rich Sofranko
Photo by Rich Sofranko

In addition to 30 company dancers, some 130 PBT students—some as young as 7—are performing as toy soldiers, clowns and additional enchanted characters. To create fresh variety and chemistry—while also showcasing emerging talents in principal roles—each of the 24 performances features unique casting combinations. One dancer can even portray up to eight characters during a single season or play multiple roles per show.

One of the most popular ballets of all time, The Nutcracker is based on a classic tale written by the German Romantic author E.T.A Hoffman. Since its premiere in 1892, companies have adapted the ballet by altering choreography, tailoring sets and emphasizing certain themes.

Have a future Twlya Tharp or Mikhail Baryshnikov in your brood? Don’t miss the PBT’s special programs for kids, such as photos with the Sugar Plum Fairy before each performance and during intermission, and the Family Pointe pre-show discussion and demonstration program on Saturday, December 12, at 1 p.m.
Purchase tickets.

 Looking for more events? Read our 10 Pittsburgh events not to miss in December feature.

Jennifer BaronArts & Entertainment / Jobs Editor

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.