Nutcracker Fuels Dance Students’ Dreams for the Future

Few sounds signal Christmas like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. At the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, the classic resonates beyond the season when dancers from Next Generation Ballet® (NGB), Patel Conservatory’s pre-professional dance troupe and the Straz’s resident ballet company, will perform in recognizable roles alongside guest principal dancers from the New York City Ballet.

Philip Neal, artistic director of Next Generation Ballet® and chair of Patel Conservatory’s Dance Department, was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet for more than 20 years. Now, he’s guiding the NGB dancers not just in making seasonal memories for the audience, but in building serious dance careers. The NGB dancers rehearse 4-7 hours per day, six days a week, from September until the performances in December, and who knows—an NGB dancer just might return years from now to dance with the next generation of the ballet company!

To help get you in a Nutcracker frame of mind, enjoy this mix of fun facts about the holiday perennial and Next Generation Ballet:

  • The original working titles for “The Nutcracker” were “The Christmas Tree” and “The Fir Tree.” NGB’s production goes just by “Nutcracker.”
  • The ballet took 42 years to migrate from Russia, first being performed in England in 1934. In the United States, it was first performed in 1944 by the San Francisco Opera Ballet. It took another 10 years to get to New York City where it became a full-on American holiday tradition after George Balanchine choreographed it in 1954. In Tampa, Next Generation Ballet and earlier iterations of the company have performed “Nutcracker” for more than 15 years.
  • Depending on where you are, Clara may not be the name of the heroine. There were two versions of the original story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffmann and “The Nutcracker of Nuremberg.” In these stories, the heroine is known as Maria or Marie and her doll was named Clara.
  • Tchaikovsky thought this work was “infinitely poorer” than his score for “Sleeping Beauty.” “The Nutcracker” was the last of the three ballets he composed for – the first being Swan Lake. Next Generation Ballet has performed all three of these ballets at The Straz over the years!
  • A newly invented musical instrument of the time, the celesta, is the twinkling sound you hear in “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Tchaikovsky found the piano hybrid with a bell-like tone while in Paris and smuggled it to Russia to create the character’s unique musical accompaniment, which has been described as sounding like sprays of a fountain.
  • Each year, NGB Artistic Director, Philip Neal adds in a new element to the show – from a live choir during the snow scene to flamenco choreography during the Spanish divertissement. New this year, the youngest dancers ever will be involved in Nutcracker as Baby Mice during the battle scene.
  • The Nutcracker musical suite has made some notable appearances in pop culture as well, in as varied a range of productions as Disney’s Fantasia (1940), a 1954 holiday episode of General Electric Theater hosted by then-actor Ronald Reagan, and several video games including Lemmings, Yoshi’s Story and 2007’s Bioshock.
  • In 2018, Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre’s history, performed as Ballerina Princess in the Disney film, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” a retelling of Hoffmann’s original story.

Next Generation Ballet will perform “Nutcracker” Dec. 16-18 in Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center. For tickets and information on special opportunities for groups of 10 or more, contact our Ticket Sale Office at (813) 229-7827 or visit

*Presented by the Straz Center for the Performing Arts | Originally published in December 2022 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine. 

Similar Posts