A Very Washington D.C. Nutcracker A family-friendly holiday treat with local history

Photo courtesy of the Washington Ballet

The Nutcracker is perhaps the most famous ballet in the world. Since its inception, it’s been popular with children and adults alike. It’s also synonymous with Christmas and has become a treasured tradition for many families.

In Washington, D.C., the Washington Ballet puts a uniquely capital city spin on the timeless story by setting the scene in 19th Century Georgetown.  All D.C. families will feel right at home seeing the dancers perform to Tchaikovsky’s score in front of scenes depicting the National Mall and D.C.’s iconic Cherry Blossoms, among other familiar sites.

The Washington Ballet’s iconic production is equal parts history lesson, mischief, beauty and humor. See General Washington as the heroic Nutcracker, King George III as the Rat King and historical figures including John Paul Jones, Miss Liberty, Harriet Tubman, Betsy Ross, and Benjamin Franklin as dancing dolls.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Ballet

The story comes to life with intricate, stunning set designs, original custom costumes and more than 100 dancers including students and trainees from The Washington School of Ballet.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Ballet

For those not familiar with the story of The Nutcracker, as told by the Washington Ballet, the magic starts when young Clara receives her Uncle Drosselmeyer’s gift of a nutcracker at her family’s elaborate Christmas party.  What follows is a Christmas tree that magically grows 30 feet, a dramatic battle between toy soldiers and a band of rats, an explosion of cannon fire and falling snow. By the time Clara and her young prince arrive in “Springtime” they (and the audience along with them) enjoy a stunning performance from an Anacostia brave and maiden, Spanish and Chinese dancers and waltzing cherry blossoms along the banks of the Potomac, twirling cardinals and a frontiersman.  Of course, the Sugar Plum Fairy performs her show-stopping, breathtaking dance as well.

The Washington Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker is a truly awe-inspiring experience.  Each performance features more than 100 dancers, including some from the professional company and others who are Washington Ballet students, although the line between amateur and pro is impressively blurred.  It is wonderous to watch so many dancers on stage at once creating scenes that seem both realistic and magical at the same time.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Ballet

It is not an exaggeration to say that my children were transfixed by the performance.  They loved a winter dance with the ballerinas, all in icy blue, a vibrant scene full of colorfully-dressed clowns bursting from a carousel and every dance that involved animals.

The Nutcrackers is at its heart a family ballet and kids of all ages were in attendance.  Some were able to sit still more than others and no one in the audience seemed bothered by a little wiggling.

The Nutcracker is a special holiday tradition for many D.C.- area families.   It is easy to see why.  Having experienced the magic of The Nutcracker once, it is difficult not to want to go back to experience it again.

Good to Know:

  • The Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker is performed at the Warner Theatre
  • Tickets vary based on seat and performance but start at about $65.00.
  • The Nutcracker runs through Dec. 30.
  • The Nutcracker runs approximately two hours, including an intermission.
  • Consider making a day of going to The Nutcracker. The iconic Old Ebbitt Grill and Willard Intercontinental are just a few blocks away.
  • Attire at the performance I saw included everything from jeans to elaborate holiday dresses.
  • Concessions including candy, cheese boxes, popcorn, alcohol, Shirley Temples and more are available for purchase. No outside food or drink is permitted inside.
  • We recommend taking the metro or booking a discounted parking spot in advance through Spot Hero or a similar app.

Jamie Davis Smith is a regular contributor to Washington FAMILY magazine. A mother of four, she loves exploring the D.C. area with her family. Reach her at [email protected].


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