Resistance is futile. Every year a veritable nutcracker army marches across the Bay Area, leaving few theaters unravaged by teeming mouse armies, nibbled gingerbread soldiers and the dreaded sugar plum fairies.
Constantly adjusted, revamped and reinterpreted, "The Nutcracker" seems indestructible as a harbinger of the holiday season, anchored by Tchaikovsky's enchanting score, E.T.A. Hoffmann's fanciful dreamscape plot and numerous roles for budding dancers. Here are some recommended productions:
San Francisco Ballet
The formerly obscure utensil's conquest of America started on Christmas Eve 1944, when the San Francisco Ballet presented the American premiere of the unabridged "Nutcracker" at the War Memorial Opera House. While Helgi Tomasson re-imagined the tale as an adventure set in San Francisco's Pacific Heights, circa 1918, he employs Tchaikovsky's unadulterated score in the sequence intended by the composer. It's a dazzling production that has lost none of its glow since premiering to rave reviews in 2004. Runs Dec. 7-28 at the War Memorial Opera House (301 Van Ness Ave.). Tickets are $20-$265, 415-865-2000, www.sfballet.org
Ballet San Jose
The latest addition to Bay Area's "Nutcracker" ranks is Ballet San Jose's production, newly choreographed by Karen Gabay, a long-treasured member of the company. Borrowing Paul Kelly's beautiful sets and Theoni V. Aldredge's lavish costumes from American Ballet Theatre's 2000 Kevin McKenzie production, Gabay's version features live accompaniment by Symphony Silicon Valley under the baton of the company's new music director and conductor George Daugherty. The production runs Dec. 8-23, San Jose Center for the Performing Arts (255 Almaden Blvd.). Tickets are $30-$105, 408-288-2800, www.balletsj.org.
The Oakland Ballet presents artistic director Graham Lustig's fine version of the "Nutcracker," which has quickly become one of the company's defining works. Transplanting the ballet to the early 20th century, Lustig centers the action firmly on Marie (the name of Hoffmann's original protagonist, changed in many "Nutcrackers" to Clara). Featuring the Oakland East Bay Symphony directed by Michael Morgan, the production is enhanced by the Paramount, an opulent Art Deco masterpiece. The show goes on Dec. 22-24 at Oakland's Paramount Theatre (2025 Broadway). Tickets: $20-$59, 800-745-3000, http://oaklandballet.org.
City Ballet School
City Ballet School presents its 10th anniversary season of "The Nutcracker" featuring 90 students ages 6 to 19. Pleasingly sophisticated and geared to families, the choreography is by Yuri Zhukov, the renowned choreographer and former principal dancer with Kirov Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, and the school's artistic director, Galina Alexandrova, a former dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. This production is staged Dec. 8-9 at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts Theatre (3301 Lyon St.). Tickets: $20-$35, 415-392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com.
Mark Morris Dance Company
Returning to Cal Performances after a three-year hiatus, Mark Morris' singularly zany take on "Nutcracker" -- "The Hard Nut" -- pours a welcome torrent of rum into the Bay Area's holiday punch bowl. A persistently playful and imaginative reinvention of all things "Nutcracker," "The Hard Nut" is set in the woozy 1970s and features a menagerie not envisioned by Hoffmann, including Barbie doll ballerinas, G.I. Joe soldiers, and snowflakes a-leaping. With nearly 100 costume changes, a lavish set, and Tchaikovsky's magnificent score performed by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra and the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir, "The Hard Nut" is a delicious confection all too easy to swallow. As a bonus, Morris makes his Berkeley debut in the role of Dr. Stahlbaum/King. The production runs Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 20-23 at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. Tickets: $30-$110, 510-642-9988, www.calperformances.org.