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Is a ballet or dance ever really finished? Ask choreographers and they likely will tell you that at some point they just stopped and said something like “Let’s go with this.” Left with more time and resources, they might continue tweaking and perfecting little things or making the slightest choreographic changes.

But what if you had a work that was an annual tradition, like Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s “Nutcracker,” which is in its 21st year? Then you have years to work on adding and changing things. That’s exactly what artistic director Christine Meneer has done over the years. Eighteen years ago, you might have seen her celebrated and highly dramatic story ballet and been charmed by the holiday decorations in the Akron Civic Theatre (a Knight arts grantee) lobby. Over the years people dressed as nutcrackers greeted you, then came opportunities for a holiday photo session in front of a Christmas tree and a visit with Santa (for expiring ballerinas). Somewhere later, a historic display of elements of the production, like last year’s layout of costumes over the years this ballet has been performed.

The experience is being expanded on this year with a Nutcracker Sweets booth (à la the land of sweets that the lead character visits in Act II). In the booth will be the baked cookies of several Akron area bakeries (bakeries will revolve in turn for each time the ballet is performed), with audience members having the opportunity to purchase cookies and to get in the spirit of the enduring tale of Clara and her magical journeys.

And that’s the offstage stuff. Each year it seems Meneer is able to expand on the tale or the production elements to make the whole event ever more magical and mesmerizing. There have been many (like a growing gigantic Christmas tree in the dream sequence in Act I). This year’s big change is a new backdrop as setting for Act II— namely, a version of the Rialto Bridge like the one in Venice, Italy. According to Meneer it is “strikingly beautiful.” And, one would add, appropriate to that portion of the story where the adventurous and romantic dances occur.

Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux in "Nutcracker." Photo courtesy of Ballet Theare of Ohio

Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux in “Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Ballet Theare of Ohio

Last year, Meneer decided to have what she thought was going to be a one-time-only spoof of the ballet called “Nutty Nutcracker.” However, it was so well received that she has decided to do it again — and, as with last year, for one night only.

Meneer, as one might expect, plays the whole thing for laughs. Those who have seen her “Nutcracker” (or perhaps any) would get the humorous takes that she has come up with. She may well change things this year, based on how it went last year. But in the one-time version, she had, for example, a padded ballerina posing as the Sugar Plump Fairy (a play on the name) and stuck a scene showing the difficulty of the Cavalier in getting her off the ground.

Sugar Plump Fairy in "Nutty Nutcracker." Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Ohio

Sugar Plump Fairy in “Nutty Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Ohio

Ballet Theatre of Ohio has a lot of the makings for a great introduction to the holiday season in one event. Or two if you go to the traditional “Nutcracker” and take in the “Nutty Nutcracker,” as well!

Ballet Theatre of Ohio will present its traditional version of “Nutcracker” from November 24-December 2. Performance times are 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.on Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. There will also be a special performance of “Nutty Nutcracker” at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 6. All performances take place in the Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St.; 330-253-2488; www.akroncivic.com. Tickets range in price from $20-$42.

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