'The Hard Nut' Returns to Berkeley 

Mark Morris' beautifully wayward Nutcracker brings together everything naughty and nice.

In the next few weeks, we will find ourselves inundated with holiday cheer and manic glad tidings. Merriment will abound and heartfelt sentiments will flourish, signifying that the Christmas spirit is upon us.

As this is the Bay Area, and as we are an edgy, ironic, and postmodern people, the holiday performance season will include many less-than-traditional Christmas-themed offerings; some will be racy, some acerbic, some outrageous. Drag queens will play The Golden Girls. A bad-assed Bad Santa pageant will unfurl.

One untraditional holiday event that is now a traditional untraditional holiday event is Mark Morris' The Hard Nut, which returns to the Bay Area after a three-year hiatus. And for the first time since Cal Performances began producing the ballet in 1996, Morris will take on the role of Dr. Stahlbaum/King.

The Hard Nut premiered in Belgium in 1991, where Morris had been director of dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, the national opera house of Belgium. He was inspired by the comics and graphic novels of Charles Burns (Black Hole, Raw magazine), whose work has been described as art "at the juncture of fiction and memory, of cheap thrills and horror." Morris has said that Burns' "beautiful and upsetting" graphic novels suited his own personality well.

Morris based his ballet's narrative on the original text of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann. But it is set in a dark American suburb in the 1960s, where adults are often creepier than large mice. Barbie dolls, go-go boots, G.I. Joe soldiers, and a gender-bending cast contribute to the campy thrill of The Hard Nut.

The San Francisco Ballet debuted the first Nutcracker to US audiences in 1944, and the company's current production is actually fresh and lovely. Nearly seventy years later, Morris' The Hard Nut is both fresh and a little fresh, funny, and disarmingly touching; when a flurry of confetti (twenty pounds per night) falls down during the "Waltz of the Snowflakes," The Hard Nut can utterly melt us with its beauty. And melting the hip is no small feat.

The Hart Nut runs December 14-23 at Zellerbach Hall (Bancroft Way at Telegraph Ave., Berkeley). 510-642-9988 or CalPerformances.org

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