Metro Weekly

Editor’s Pick: The Washington Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

The Washington Ballet has been performing Tchaikovsky's iconic holiday ballet in different variations since 1961.

Washington Ballet : Nutcracker -- Photo: Spencer Bentley
Washington Ballet : Nutcracker — Photo: Spencer Bentley

In 2004, the Washington Ballet began performing The Nutcracker in an adaptation by the company’s then-artistic director Septime Webre. The choreographer offered a toast to the company’s home city in a new version that he set in historical Washington, circa 1882, with George Washington as the heroic nutcracker and King George III as the Rat King.

But the iconic ballet was already well established as the company’s signature holiday tradition by that point. In fact, the company’s founder Mary Day started that tradition in 1961 — a full 15 years before the bicentennial launch of the Washington Ballet.

Prior to establishing the company, Day led ad-hoc performances featuring a pre-professional group of dancers, all alumni of the Washington School of Ballet, in occasional concerts with the National Symphony Orchestra.

And with that group and the NSO in 1961, Day premiered her adaptation of The Nutcracker, loosely based on the classic Marius Petipa choreography, in a performance at Constitution Hall.

It would be another 16 years after the launch of the company before the Warner Theatre became part of the tradition as host venue.

Every year at the Warner, Tchaikovsky’s magical score is visually enhanced on stage with impressive set designs, lavish costumes, and D.C.-specific references, such as the iconic Dance of the Sugar Plums set against bursting cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin.

Performances are staged with a rotating cast of 100 dancers, led by the company’s professional artists but also featuring approximately 400 students and trainees of the ballet school.

Washington Ballet : Nutcracker -- Photo: XMB Photography
The Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker — Photo: XMB Photography

“The Nutcracker provides wonderful artistic milestones for our dancers as they move through the ranks and grow artistically and technically over the years. It is a joy to see the whole school represented with the company and to get to see the full spectrum of The Washington Ballet onstage,” the company’s artistic director Julie Kent says in the official program. “The tone and ambiance of the Warner Theatre and Tchaikovsky’s iconic score contribute to the holiday spirit, and it is a pleasure to see how the performance touches our audience.”

​​Performances run through Dec. 30. At the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW. Tickets are $42 to $145. Visit or call 202-677-5193.

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