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Mixed 'Nutcrackers'
Two interpretations of the holiday ballet - on the same day
Savannah Danse Theatre's evening performance is accompanied by the Savannah Philharmonic

The big thing in Savannah theaters this Thanksgiving weekend is ... Christmas!

That's right, we'll barely have the leftover turkey tucked into Ziploc bags before The Nutcracker, that venerable dance of tinsel-time joy, is upon us.

There are two productions of The Nutcracker this year, each a mix of professional and non-professional ballet artists, each playing out to Tchaikovsky's brilliant seasonal music, rich in jingle bells, ho-ho-ho and dreamy crystalline snowflakes a-falling.

They're both onstage this Thanksgiving weekend.

In fact, they're both on the same day - Saturday - at theaters separated by only a couple of miles.

For the 10th straight year, the Savannah Danse Theatre - the performing arm of Islands Dance Academy - is doing The Nutcracker in Savannah, director Sue Braddy's hometown adaptation, setting the familiar story in 1945 Chatham County. It's at the Lucas Theatre.

And William Starrett's Columbia City Ballet brings its large-scale Nutcracker to the Johnny Mercer Theatre for its annual performance.

Each production has something to recommend. The Columbia dancers are professionals who've logged many hours, cross-country, performing The Nutcracker. The sets are the costumes are lush and large-scale.

 Columbia's version also includes numerous local, young dancers, auditioned specifically for the Savannah show.

"I really try to be ensconced in the community, and not just ride in and ride off into the sunset," Starrett told us in 2009. "I've been committed to Savannah and the Savannah Nutcracker for more than a decade now."

However, the elaborate Columbia City Ballet production uses recorded music. Sue Braddy's The Nutcracker in Savannah - at its evening performance, anyway - will play out to the live accompaniment of the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra.

Having said that, the majority of Braddy's dancers are young girls, students at Islands Dance Academy. Although several lead roles, Braddy says, will be played this year by visiting professionals.

"I don't have a professional company, but I have a professional Nutcracker," Braddy explains. "But I do own a company, and I'm very proud of what I do."

The timing wasn't accidental - Braddy's Nutcracker has been scheduled on the same day as Holly Days, the City of Savannah's downtown getting-in-the-mood Yuletide celebration.

"Personally," she says, "I always love doing it in December. Because it's a little bit colder, and a little bit later. But the City does this lovely function; I thought; why don't I jump on that?"

The Nutcracker in Savannah uses well-known locales to re-tell the story of little Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy and their Christmas dream interactions.

The "mice" in the story are called the Savannah River Rats.

"Many other companies now emphasize a Nutcracker in their own city," says Braddy. "In other words, it's not like a fairy tale that kids just know about. It's still wonderful, but I think that it is even better when we're trying to emphasize what Savannah looked like, how people acted ... some of the gifts the kids get are some of the toys that were out in 1945. It's been a real nice learning experience."

With her show officially a part of Holly Days, Braddy hopes it will be embraced as a community institution.

"I just feel like we're giving a real gift to the city," she explains, "and I don't know how long it will happen. This has been a bit of a rough year. You can really tell, financially, that there's a big difference in the economy."

She knows she's going out on a limb - neither the orchestra nor the Lucas Theatre come cheap.

"I never make any money," Braddy laughs. "I pay all of my bills; how about if I say that? I pay everything, and then in January we start thinking about it again, and seeing if it's going to work at all."

Columbia City Ballet: ‘The Nutcracker'

Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Ogelthorpe Ave.

When: At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27

Tickets: $20-$42


Savannah Danse Theatre: ‘The Nutcracker in Savannah'

Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

When: Saturday, Nov. 27

Family show at 2 p.m.; all tickets $10

Evening performance (with the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra) at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $27-$50