OAKLAND — Ronn Guidi regularly has visions of sugar plum fairies, dancing dolls and mouse kings.

In the real world, giant mice and living dolls might qualify a person for medication.

But Guidi is the maestro of the Oakland Ballet, which is getting ready to take a crack at an old nut tonight, when the Christmas favorite "The Nutcracker" comes to the Paramount Theatre stage for a six-performance run.

Tonight marks not only the second year of dancing "The Nutcracker" after the company hung up its tutus temporarily in 2005, but it's also the 35th anniversary of the group.

That's a lot of plies and pirouettes.

For such a child-friendly holiday staple, "The Nutcracker" is a little psychedelic.

A toy nutcracker comes to life to rescue young Clara from a giant, evil Mouse King and his band of soldier mouseketeers.

Then the nutcracker-soldier turns into a prince and is transported with Clara to a winter wonderland where fairies flutter about.

The curtain descends. You still following?

Despite how implausible the story sounds, year after year, reality is suspended while adult and child alike bask in the golden glow of the ballet.

Legend has it, however, that when the Russian composer Tchaikovsky (as in Peter Ilyich) set the story to music around 1890, he wasn't too crazy about the idea.

He didn't want to tackle the musical version of what had been an odd tale called the "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.


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The original 1816 story came from Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman, a German writer-composer-painter-bureaucrat whose prose leaned toward the mystical and supernatural.

Another very strange but magical ballet, "Coppelia," also is based on a Hoffman story.

"The Nutcracker" was first performed Dec. 18, 1892, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

It is said that it was Tchaikovsky's last ballet, which should be distinguished from what became "The Nutcracker Suite" (think "Fantasia"), a collection of eight pieces he favored most from the 90-minute original composition.

The suite took off with fans, but it took another 42 years until the ballet was danced outside Russia, in 1934 in England, and another 10 years to make it in its entirety to a U.S. stage.

The San Francisco Ballet performed "The Nutcracker" in 1944, making it an annual tradition. George Balanchine's New York City Ballet jumped on the holiday tradition bandwagon in 1954.

Then Mikhail Baryshnikov broke the equivalent of the sound barrier for men in tights with his American Ballet Theatre version, which hit the stage in 1976 and TV in 1977.

It was like "Sex and the Soviets."

Baryshnikov and Balanchine spurred a mind-boggling array of adaptations over the years, including satires, cartoons and "The Nutcracker: a Fantasy on Ice" with Dorothy Hamill.

My favorite is "Barbie in the Nutcracker," starring ... Barbie. Then there is "The Nuttiest Nutcracker," with Phyllis Diller as the voice of an overweight Sugar Plum Fairy (she is, after all, the "sovereign of sweets").

Everyone from the Care Bears, Tom and Jerry, Oksana Baiul, Kiefer Sutherland and child-star Macaulay Culkin have taken to ice, stage or animation to star in the ballet.

And who can forget "Nut Rocker," by B. Bumble and the Stingers, which is a boogie-woogie adaptation (think Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry) of "March," the second piece in the first act set during Christmas Eve.

The 1962 spoof was so popular it hit No. 1 in the U.K. and got to No. 21 in the United States.

Opening night kicks off at 8 today, followed by an "All Star Night" 8 p.m. Saturday. Community matinees are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today (tickets are $20 but check availability first); 2 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and, 11 a.m. Monday, when ticket prices are discounted.

For more information about the Oakland Ballet, visit http://www.oaklandballet.org, or e-mail info@rgfpa.org.

For ticket availability and prices, visit the Web site Ticketmaster.com or call (510) 625-8497. For special offers available only through the Paramount Theatre box office, call (510) 465-6400.

That's all for now, ladies and gentlemen. But if you have a cool shindig e-mail me at awoodall@angnewspapers.com.