Im a hard nut but this ballet made me cry.
I'm a hard nut but this ballet made me cry. Mat Hayward (MMDG)

The holiday season can be cloying. There are the parades, the tree-cuttings, the eggnogs and the hot toddies, the endless knick-knack markets... While some people welcome the return of Mariah Carey's holiday warbles, there is a silent majority that dreads it. And then there's always The Nutcracker, a holiday ballet that is so compulsory it's usually given not one, but two or four or six productions a year. In one metro area!

I count myself among the Christmastime grinches, but I'm also here to sing the praises of one Nutcracker production that I think is always, without a doubt, forever worth your time and money: Mark Morris Dance Group's The Hard Nut, a gender-bending contemporary classic from the funny and inventive Seattle-born choreographer Mark Morris. If you, like me, find the typical holiday fare to be too sweet, please heed this recommendation and go see Morris's take on The Nutcracker, which runs through this weekend at the Paramount. It has the power to soften even the hardest and most cynical nuts among us.

A few favorite parts from this production:

It's faithful to the original production of The Hard Nut. Recently, I rented a DVD copy of The Hard Nut from Scarecrow Video because I liked the graphic design on the DVD case. It was done by Charles Burns (which I misread as Chase Burns—we're not related), a cartoonist with deep ties to Seattle (he went to Roosevelt High then Evergreen College), and specifically Sub Pop and Fantagraphics. The ballet's production design is based on the work of Charles Burns, which gives the show an overall dark, edgy, dare-I-say alt-weekly vibe. This tone is extended to the show's costumes, created by the late Martin Pakledinaz, which feel like the B-52s went down to Whoville. I'm pleased to say that this current production seems to directly mirror the original 1991 production I saw on that recording.

Obviously, the drag. One of the most immediate differences of this Nutcracker, besides the costumes and set, is its use of drag. The housekeeper, played by Brandon Randolph, enters the stage in a wry maid's outfit, en pointe. She is funny and sexy and sassy and good. Then Mrs. Stahlbaum, played by John Heginbotham, enters in a grand, queenly, emerald-green dress, to laughs. The drag breaks up the seriousness of The Nutcracker, but quickly evolves to be more than just a gag. By the time the blizzard sequence occurs, and 20-plus dancers hit the stage in matching tutus, gender stops even being a consideration.

I want that ugly Christmas jumper pantsuit so bad.
I want that ugly Christmas jumper pantsuit so bad. Mat Hayward (MMDG)

"The Waltz of the Snowflakes." My God. Three-quarters of the way through the first act, I was soundly wooed by the nut. But the first act's closer, the "Waltz of the Snowflakes," had me sniffling and gasping in amazement. The waltz starts gently and irreverently, with men and women entering in white tutus and curly white wigs that looked like ice cream cones, chucking fistfuls of snow into the air. It gets laughs. It's silly. But the bit evolves, with more and more dancers leaping onto the stage, flinging fistfuls of snow, until the entire, gigantic stage is littered with dancers. It's a total white-out. And it's funny. A ballet that makes you laugh deserves to be seen.

The snow kept coming and coming and coming.
The "snow" kept coming and coming and coming. Mat Hayward (MMDG)

I won't spoil the whole show for you—just go see it. Here's a snippet from "The Waltz of the Snowflakes." Enjoy!