Theater companies have a variety of options for holiday shows, including the beloved A Christmas Carol, the contemporary classic A Tuna Christmas, and stage adaptations of It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story.
Music groups can do Handel's Messiah, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, numerous Magnificats or concerts drawn from hundreds of holiday classics.
But for the ballet, there's really only one option: The Nutcracker.
The dance set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's iconic score is (if you look at it fondly) a timeless holiday classic and/or (more cynically) a cash cow for dance companies. However you see it, the show is a virtual must for dance companies at Christmastime.
In Lexington, that means three productions.
Since 2003, Lexington has had three troupes offering Nutcracker.
At its core, each show is the same story of a little girl receiving a magical nutcracker as a Christmas present and being carried off for a dreamy night in a land of oversize rats and sugarplum fairies.
But each Lexington Nutcracker production has its distinctive traits. So we're going to give you the skinny on what's up with each production, and we give the companies a chance to pitch their productions, telling you why you should come to their shows.
Bluegrass Youth Ballet
The company: Ballet school established in 2003.
The production: For most of its history, the youth ballet has presented Nutcracker in One Act. The ballet condenses the Nutcracker story of the first act to create a show that gives some exposition and then most of the popular character dances of Act II.
Choreographer: Artistic director Adalhi Aranda Corn, except for Sugar Plum and Cavalier Pas de Deux, which is based on the Marius Petipa choreography.
The pitch: "Bluegrass Youth Ballet's signature Nutcracker in One Act gives both children and adults a run for their money," administrative director Jen Levine wrote via e-mail. "The affordable one-hour performance features an array of child-friendly elements. A curious and mischievous Clara who sneaks into her mother's hidden treasure trunk, a giant Chinese dragon, a dancing Mother Ginger, and a magical swirl of flower garlands captivate children and make for a magical, charming and impressive ballet experience. Adult audience members will find that Nutcracker in One Act leaves little to be desired as it also features energetic choreography, proficient ballet technique, professional guest artists and unique hand-made costumes."
Performances: 7 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18, 2 p.m. Dec. 20.
Location: Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall, 405 Rose St.
Tickets: $12-$15; available at the Singletary Center for the Arts Ticket Office. Call (859) 257-4929 or go to www.singletarytickets.com.,
Kentucky Ballet Theatre
The company: A professional ballet company and school in Lexington since 1998.
The production: Kentucky Ballet Theatre and the Lexington Ballet get the Lexington Opera House for Nutcracker on rotating years. This is KBT's year in the big house, with the big traditional production.
Choreographer: Artistic director Norbe Risco.
The pitch: "The Nutcracker ballet is as much a part of the holiday season as snow, Santa Claus, Christmas trees and presents under them," Risco wrote. "For the people in Central Kentucky, seeing The Nutcracker at the Opera House is a tradition that brings generations of families together for a magical matinee or evening of sharing the holiday spirit. For a ballet company, presenting The Nutcracker at the Opera House is a privilege and a responsibility. We are happy to be there this year to bring to the audience the quality professional production that will give them the magical performance that they and the theater deserve."
Performances: 8 p.m. Dec. 11, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 12, 2 p.m. Dec. 13.
Location: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
Tickets: $15-$28; available at the Lexington Center ticket office and all Ticketmaster locations. Call (859) 233-3535 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.
The company: A ballet institution in Lexington since 1975, with a newly formed professional company.
The production: Featuring the debut of Lexington Ballet's new professional performing company in Nutcracker, this production is being staged in the intimate Guignol Theatre in the University of Kentucky's Fine Arts Building. It is a rare appearance by a community group in the Guignol.
Choreographer: Artistic director Luis Dominguez.
The pitch: "The Lexington Ballet's production of The Nutcracker: Up Close! combines the best of both worlds," executive director Joe Tackett wrote. "Our newly hired professional company of dancers will perform at the highest level of artistic quality, while at the same time, the Guignol Theatre allows everyone to feel like they are a part of the production. In such an intimate space, everyone feels like they are involved in the action, beauty and wonder of this timeless classic."
Location: Guignol Theatre in the UK Fine Arts Building, Rose St. at Patterson Dr.
Performances: 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 12 and 19, 2 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20.
Tickets: $25-$30; available at Downtown Arts Center ticket office, 141 E. Main St. Call (859) 225-0370 or go to www.tix.com.