The holidays are fast approaching and with them comes a lot of traditions. Whether we are talking about Christmas trees or menorahs, gift giving or receiving, certain special family recipes and meals, or religious fasting, there’s a whole lot of effort, shopping, and travel that goes into our collective celebration of the winter holiday season. For those reasons and more, the holidays can be a source of unwelcome stress and fatigue for many people. So we must remember to look for ways to relax, to kick back together and experience what the season is all about. The world of culture and entertainment offers us a plethora of ways to enjoy our holidays together, to experience spectacles that create special memories that last a lifetime. If you are a dancer, or you have a special dancer in your life, there are some truly amazing productions out there to help you celebrate the holiday spirit with the glorious gift of dance. Here’s a list of some of the best holiday dance productions out there for your consideration.
What can be said about this Christmas tradition that hasn’t been said or written about a thousand times over? Well, for starters, did you know that this Tchaikovsky ballet was not particularly loved by its composer, and was in fact considered a stage failure in his lifetime? After the lukewarm response to its premiere in St. Petersburg in the winter of 1892, further productions in its native Russia were doomed to derision and indifference by a hostile audience who generally considered its themes to be childish and boring. It wasn’t until 1954, when choreographer George Balanchine staged his production with the New York City Ballet that the ballet got the recognition and celebration as a Christmas classic that it currently enjoys. There are so many iterations and versions of the Nutcracker today, and if you aren’t able to enjoy a live staging of the ballet then we suggest you check out the 1977 film version of the American Ballet Theatre performing this seminal work with star dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. It’s truly a piece of Christmas magic.
Meet Me In St Louis
Much of what we love about the song and dance productions from the golden age of Hollywood can be found in this superb film. A love story told in seasonal vignettes, ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’ finds Judy Garland at the peak of her career, playing the lovesick Ester Smith, as she navigates a romance with the boy next door that spans the summer to the winter. Full of excellent, highly choreographed dance scenes, a timeless soundtrack, and exquisite cinematography, this film is a must-see for all ages.
Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular
Beginning with its winter solstice premiere in 1933, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular has been THE show to see during a New York Christmas. Featuring huge musical numbers, incredible sets, and of course, the centerpiece starring act of the all-female dance troupe the Rockettes, this production is about as close as it comes to being as famous as the Nutcracker. If you can’t get tickets to this season’s post-COVID return, we suggest that you check out one of the many recorded versions of the show. A good place to start is the 1986 HBO special.
As you may have read about before, we are big fans of blockbuster Hollywood productions from yesteryear, and this 1954 movie stands out as a classic of the genre. Bookended by two fateful Christmas Eves (the beginning is set in the European theater of WWII before the action moves to post-war New York and Vermont), White Christmas tells a tale of love, the romantic kind between young lovers and the platonic love that former soldiers have for their hapless general. Featuring two titans of Tinseltown song and dance, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby, in co starring roles and with a songbook by the great Irving Berlin, ‘White Christmas,’ is an absolute treat.
Babes In Toyland
Not to be confused with the earlier Laurel and Hardy film, this 1961 Disney production stars former Mouseketeer Annete Funicello in a musical romp through the pages of Mother Goose’s stories. Keep an eye out for the first appearance of the now-iconic Toy Soldiers, and enjoy this colorful romp with your favorite youngsters.
A Christmas Carol
A Christmas classic since Charles Dickens first published it as a novella in the end of 1843, A Christmas Carol has a long and varied production history, having been presented as a radio play, opera, several movies, plays, special television events, and even a vehicle for Jim Henson’s muppets. So it should come as no surprise that it has also been staged as a ballet and is performed yearly around the world in iterations of a dance production. Chances are high that you are living somewhere nearby one of these productions, but if you aren’t or are not inclined to see it live, have no fear: There’s an excellent filmed adaptation by the UK’s Northern Ballet.
The poet Langston Hughes reimagined the story of the Nativity of Christ with an all African American cast in this off-broadway play. With its rousing gospel score and vibrant dancers, ‘Black Nativity’ has since become something of a tradition in America, seeing yearly performances in large cities like New York and Seattle and even a 2013 film adaptation. This year marks the 60th anniversary of its original debut and the production still has the ability to move its audience mightily with the power of music and dance.
Fiddler On The Roof
Although not exactly a holiday event as much as it is a celebration of tradition and the deep beauty of European Jewish culture, ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ deserves a place in your holiday line-up because it presents a vision of rural life in the shtetl with a masterful soundtrack and cinematography. It’s nice to have an alternative for people who may feel left out by the general celebration of Christmas, and this production is a triumph of emotion and the togetherness of humanity. And as far as dance numbers go, very few can compare to the brilliance of the bottle dance, which is brought to full Technicolor life in the Oscar-winning film adaptation.