"The Nutcracker," that timeless ballet classic, is a story many know by heart.
A young girl named Clara gets a nutcracker doll for Christmas. The toy comes to life as a prince, who then takes her on a magical journey through the enchanted Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets, before fending off the giant Mouse King and his minions. In the end, 'twas all but a dream.
Although the ballet wasn't originally written for Christmastime, the music from Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker' has become incredibly popular and is often associated with the holiday. That is one reason why ballet companies across the country are putting "The Nutcracker" on this time of year. The other reason is they need the money.
"We lose money on everything else," Mikko Nissinen, the artistic director of the Boston Ballet, told ABC's John Donvan. "It's the only thing that goes to the positive direction."
For most dance companies, "The Nutcracker" is their best seller of the year, but with constant competition for ticket sales, some ballet troupes have tweaked the classic story to create alternative versions.
Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET
|Boston's 'Urban' Nutcracker|
In Boston, the BalletRox dance company offers an"urban" version of "The Nutcracker," fusing Tchaikovsky's classical score with the jazz beats of Duke Ellington. Hip-hop, tap and swing are also incorporated into the mix.
BalletRox founder Tony Williams, who danced in the Boston Ballet's first production of "The Nutcracker" in 1965, choreographed the "Urban Nutcracker" show.
"I wanted to do something that included different dance styles and also reflected the children that were coming to my school and community," Williams told ABC's John Donvan.
Growing up in Boston, Williams said he stumbled into ballet as a teenager, and the art changed him.
"I was just a punk kid, juvenile delinquent," Williams said. "I just found myself. I sort of found my soul in dance... it was a lifesaver."
Classically-trained dancer Vanessa White directed and stars in the show as the "Sugar Dish Fairy," (a play on the original Sugar Plum Fairy character). She said she took up burlesque after an injury forced her to quit ballet and launched the "sexy-freaky" production on a whim.
"'Slutcracker,' the name, just kind of popped into my head," White said. "My husband was like, 'you have to do that,' and I was kind of like, 'I don't know what it is though. I don't know what it's going to be,' and he just kept needling me and pushing me until I figured out what it was."
And "Slutcracker" has been big business for the dance troupe.
"Since we opened in 2008, we have grossed over half-a-million dollars," White said. "We sold 12,000 tickets in 2010."
But Boston isn't the only city to host provocative "Nutcracker" performances. In Seattle, one dance company features the Kingdom of Sweets performers in drag and a stripping Countess of Coffee.
|Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'Wild Things'|
The Pacific Northwest Ballet, also based in Seattle, premiered its production of a more classic "Nutcracker" in 1983.
Over 200 dancers participate in the annual performance.
However, the PNB's show has the innovation of Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator of "Where the Wild Things Are," who created the sets, costumes and new characters, such as the Peacock and the Chinese Tiger, shown above, with PNB founding director Kent Stowell.
Salt Lake City's BalletWest performs two productions of "The Nutcracker" -- the classic and a "nutty" version.
The "Nutty Nutcracker" features cameos by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, a battle scene with Star Wars light sabers and the Marx Brothers as Russian dancers.
There's also a "Nutty Nutcracker" in Orlando, performed as a kid's rock musical with original scores and bright, futuristic costumes -- the Sugar Plum Fairy has hot pink hair.
One reason kids love "The Nutcracker" is that the ballet needs a lot of kids to perform in it. In turn, the show can be a training ground for future dancers and for audiences to learn to love the story, two things Boston Ballet's Mikko Nissinen believes is important.
"It's a great opportunity to develop the company," Nissinen said. "It's a great opportunity for the industry and the art form."