‘Nutcracker,’ ‘Martians’ ring in the holidays

Christmas is all about tradition.

Sure, the presents are great, and I enjoy watching my kid get stoked for 20 minutes of gift opening on Christmas morning after what to her seems centuries of waiting from the time the tree goes up. But it is the pop culture tradition of holiday classics, as well as some finer performance art, that sit head and shoulders above the non-American-made junk that clutters so many homes on Christmas morn.

For me, Christmas means “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” the 1964 lemon that often appears on some of the “worst movies ever made” lists. I’m also down with the almost-ceremonial viewing of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” There is also the audio-visual treat that is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack is the best Christmas album you’ll find. Then there’s “The Nutcracker.”

“The Nutcracker” will be performed four times this weekend by the State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara – tonight, two shows Saturday and again Sunday afternoon.

It could be argued that “The Nutcracker” is the most celebrated ballet and classical score that has ever been performed. A range of musicians and bands including Duke Ellington, The Disco Biscuits and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra have all put their own twist on the familiar pieces that Tchaikovsky penned in 1892. It has also been dropped countless times into television and film; Disney’s “Fantasia,” “The Simpsons,” “Animaniacs” and even Beavis and Butthead are just a few of the Hollywood heavies who have referenced, hummed or sung along to the music.

The Concert Hall production will feature more than 70 local dancers to augment the State Street Ballet. Concert Hall Director Charles Leslie said it is one of the biggest productions at the venue.

“There are 150 costumes alone,” Leslie said. “Then there are sets and props, there’s a lot of people in black clothes backstage you don’t see, pulling on ropes, raising props, doing all kinds of things to put it together. It’s a pretty active event.”

It also serves as an introduction for many into a new world of high culture; think of it as the gateway drug of the fine arts.

“‘The Nutcracker,’ for a lot of people, is the first time they’ve ever seen ballet, and the first time they’ve listened to classical music, all combined into one,” Leslie said.

It’s a tradition that remains important to Leslie and for the Concert Hall. “The Nutcracker” has been performed there for the last eight years, with State Street performing it for six of them. It fits the mission of the Concert Hall, to bring events that are not found in other venues in town. The relationship built between ballet company, venue and local performers is celebrated by all.

“What’s great about the State Street Ballet is they love to work with us locally,” Leslie said. “It keeps growing and growing, and people are embracing it as the holiday tradition.”

. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.

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