Recent Comments

    Mark Morris to Appear in His Spicy, Irreverent Holiday Classic The Hard Nut at Zellerbach

    Celebrating its 25th Anniversary, The Hard Nut is a cascade of wit and wintry beauty. This lavish, gender-bent love letter to the traditional Nutcracker ballet transplants E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original story from the straight-laced 1890s to the swinging 70s, with raucous parties, dancing G.I. Joes, whimsical costumes, and a “Waltz of the Snowflakes” like no other. Based on the comic book art of Charles Burns and featuring Tchaikovsky’s complete original score, Artistic Director Mark Morris’ lyrical, modern retelling playfully preserves the warm spirit of an essential holiday tradition.

    Here in the Bay Area, twenty-two years after making its West Coast debut on the stage at Zellerbach Hall, The Hard Nut returns to Cal Performances at UC Berkeley with nine performances from December 15–24, including a 3 pm matinee on Christmas Eve! The beloved audience favorite, back at Cal Performances for the first time in five years, is part affectionate homage and part campy reinterpretation of the season’s ubiquitous Nutcracker performances. Morris’ lavish retelling, with a cast of 33 dancers, will have Tchaikovsky’s score performed live by members of the Berkeley Symphony and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir.

    Here is the fairytale-tinged synopsis:

    ACT I

    Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum’s annual Christmas Eve Party. Their children Fritz, Marie and Louise wait in the den. Party dances: polka, hokey-pokey, hesitation, stroll, bump, waltz. Friend of the family Drosselmeier brings animated toys that he’s made. He gives a Nutcracker to the children. Fritz breaks it. The children fight. Dr. Stahlbaum changes the subject. The guests go home. The family goes to bed. The housekeeper cleans up.

    Marie can’t sleep and comes downstairs to see if the Nutcracker is resting comfortably. At midnight, she is frightened by rats. Everything in the room grows to giant size. G.I. Joes led by the Nutcracker battle rats led by the mutant Rat King. Marie kills the Rat King with her slipper. She falls unconscious. The Nutcracker is transformed into a young man. Marie is tucked in. A worried Drosselmeier makes his way through the blizzard.

    ACT II

    Marie is in a fever. Drosselmeier comes to see if Marie is resting comfortably and tells her one of his stories:


    Once upon a time a King and a Queen had a beautiful baby girl named Pirlipat. The Queen’s old enemy the Rat Queen threatened to ruin little Pirlipat. The nurse and the cat were left to guard the baby at night. While the nurse and cat slept, the Rat Queen destroyed Princess Pirlipat’s face. The Royal Family was horrified by the sight of their formerly beautiful daughter. The Rat Queen explained that the Princess would regain her beauty only after a young man cracked the hard nut, Krakatuk, with his teeth and stepped backwards seven times. The King commanded Drosselmeier to find the hard nut or face decapitation. Drosselmeier set off in search of the hard nut. He traveled the world for fifteen years before finding it back at home.

    The ugly teenage Pirlipat watched as one young man after another attempted to crack the hard nut. The last one to try was Drosselmeier’s own nephew. He succeeded. On his seventh step backward, he stepped on the Rat Queen, killing her. Pirlipat became beautiful and rejected the young Drosselmeier as he started to become ugly—like a nutcracker.

    At this point, Marie interrupts the story and offers her love to young Drosselmeier. Mrs. Stahlbaum acknowledges her daughter’s new maturity with a flower dance. Everyone in the world joins Marie and young Drosselmeier in celebrating their love. The two go away together forever.


    Louise and Fritz are sent to bed.

    Mark Morris himself will play the role of Dr. Stahlbaum. Morris has been hailed by The New York Times as the “most successful and influential choreographer alive and indisputably the most musical.” Since founding Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980, he has created close to 150 works for the company, many of which—like The Hard Nut—are widely considered masterpieces. Morris has established himself as someone who, as The Denver Post wrote, “easily ranks among the top five living American choreographers … and has already carved a major place for himself in the history of modern dance.”

    Veteran Lauren Grant returns for the 21st year performing as Marie, and the iconic role of the maid will be played by Brandon Randolph, only the second person to play this part since The Hard Nut’s premiere in 1991. The production’s retro costumes were designed by Martin Pakledinaz, and its pop-art sets were created by Adrianne Lobel.

    In conjunction with the performances, members of the company will host a Community Dance Class on Sunday, December 17, at 11 am in the Bancroft Studio, leading participants in movement sequences from the iconic “Waltz of the Snowflakes” scene from The Hard Nut. Tickets are $5, and capacity is limited. Pre-registration is required (

    Mark Morris Dance Group: The Hard Nut

    Performances will be Friday–Saturday December 15–16 and 22–23 at 8 pm; Thursday December 21 at 8 pm; Saturdays December 16 and 23 at 2 pm; and Sundays December 17 and 24 at 3 pm in Zellerbach Hall.

    Tickets range from $40–$135.

    Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students.

    Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach at 510-642-9988, at the door and at

    For more information about discounts, go to