The Sacramento Ballet’s take on The Nutcracker illuminates living dolls, magical adventures and aging

The Nutcracker is performed at the Community Center Theater, at 1301 L Street. Tickets are $19-$90. For more information, call (916) 808-5181, or visit

One of these days—and it may not be that far off—Sacramento Ballet's artistic director Ron Cunningham may be able to cast all the adult roles in The Nutcracker with dancers who started as kids in the company's previous productions of the holiday classic.

It's been that long—two whole decades—that Cunningham's vision of this magical tale has evolved and the dancers matured. Alexandra Cunningham (yes, Ron Cunningham and co-artistic director Carinne Binda's daughter) is not yet 30, but she's danced here for 21 years. She has progressed from kid parts and the role of Clara, the little girl whose dream The Nutcracker recounts, through this year's pinnacle role—the Sugar Plum Fairy, which she danced magnificently at the show's December 7 opening. Three other dancers rotate in the role this year, with former Sacramento Ballet star Kirsten Bloom (now a mother of two) returning to perform at the show on Sunday, December 22 .

The Nutcracker is a journey into imagination, the imagination of an innocent child who dreams a magical adventure in which mice and toy soldiers do battle, and a special toy turns into a living doll who escorts her to surprising realms—the Snowflake Forest, where the King and Queen (Lauryn Winterhalder and Stefan Calka on opening night) arrive by reindeer-drawn carriage—to the Kingdom of Sweets, where the Sugar Plum Fairy resides. The Fairy presents ethnic entertainment (composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky and original choreographer Marius Petipa's way of introducing new musical themes and balletic versions of folk-type dances) for Clara's amusement. Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian divertissements culminate in the Waltz of the Flowers, with an elegant Rose and her Cavaliers (Ava Chatterson with Mate Szentes and Dylan Keane). Finally, comes the grand pas de deux, featuring the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier (Richard Porter, showing strong partnering skills), sending Clara and the Nutcracker off, back home and back to reality.

Some notes on this year's production:

The opening night, Clara was performed by Carly Stewart, and her guardian Nutcracker was danced by her older brother Alex Stewart. In some performances, Mother Ginger will be danced by another brother, Tim Stewart.

All four Sugar Plum Fairies and their Cavaliers (Cunningham and Porter, Winterhalder and Richard Smith, Kaori Higashiyama and Christopher B. Nachtrab, and Bloom and Calka) are scheduled to dance on Monday, December 23, the final performance.

Live music, performed by the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Henrik Jul Hansen, enhanced the opening-night performance. It will accompany the shows on Friday, December 20, at 7 p.m. and December 23, at 1 p.m.; the other performances will feature recorded music. There's a premium admission price for the “live experience” to help defray musicians' pay.