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Picking through the bowl of mixed ‘Nutcrackers’

I’ve certainly seen and reviewed my fair share of “Nutcrackers” over the last 20 years.

I’ve certainly seen and reviewed my fair share of “Nutcrackers” over the last 20 years. But this season, I highly recommend two versions — a classic and a newcomer.

The classic
Loyce Houlton’s ”Nutcracker Fantasy,” produced annually by Minnesota Dance Theatre and the longest-running arts event in Minnesota history, is the holiday dance show for balletomanes.

It’s classically choreographed and sumptuously costumed. It’s teeming with dancers from preschoolers to adults. It’s professionally produced from the toe shoes and the fingertips of the Sugar Plum Fairy to all the other details. It’s performed to live orchestra. And it’s very long. But this year, Mathew Janczewski reprises his interpretation of Drosselmayer as the favorite sophisticated uncle, replete with magical leaps and protective grace.

The lean and lovely Justin Leaf takes over the role of the Nutcracker Prince — long held by Abdo Sayeh. Matt Jensen returns as the hilarious clown Madame Bonbonniere. The production also stars Yuriko Kajiya as the Sugar Plum Fairy (alternating with MDT’s Melanie Verna) and Jared Matthews as Cavalier — both from American Ballet Theatre.

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Nutcracker Fantasy. Dec. 19-24, State Theatre, Minneapolis. $11.50-$47. More details here.

Concurrently, an exhibition of materials from MDT’s archives will be on display at the Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota. ”Houlton’s Legacy: The Magic of Dance” includes founder Loyce Houlton’s personal notes and choreographic sketches, as well as photography, costumes, props and set designs. Opening reception tonight (Dec. 11) at 7:30 with preview performance of ”Nutcracker Fantasy.” Elmer L. Anderson Library Gallery, University of Minnesota, 222 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis. Phone: 612-624-9339.

The newcomer
My second recommendation is Zenon Dance Company’s one-hour holiday bonbon, ”The Nutcracker According to Mother Goose.” The show premiered last year and transported children and tickled adults alike — as there’s enough subtle sass to keep even us cynics entertained. 

This is a deft integration of the ”Nutcracker” story with such Mother Goose characters as Jack and Jill, and Little Bo Peep, which the Zenon dancers inhabit with high-jumping zest and kinetic theatricality. The show also features Zenon’s founding artistic director, Linda Z. Andrews, as the gracious, maternal Mother Goose.

In the lobby after one of last year’s performances, children clustered around Andrews with questions about her giant book of nursery rhymes (which she pages through on stage), or just to get a hug. Quite endearing. This year, the Southern Theater hosts several pre-show tea parties, during which families can enjoy a cuppa with Mother Goose.

The Nutcracker According to Mother Goose. Dec. 13-21. Southern Theater, Minneapolis. $12-$18. Phone: 612-340-1725. More details here.