Berkshire Ballet to offer a fresh take on 'Nutcracker' at the Crystal Lake Raue

It’s a Mouse Queen instead of a Mouse King for the Berkshire Ballet Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker,” opening Dec. 16 at the Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake.

And she’s fierce, said Courtney Petrocci, the artistic director for the Berkshire Ballet Theatre and its home-base, Summers Academy of Dance of Crystal Lake.

The character switch is one of several ways the production will remain fresh to entertain both newcomers and those who return every year for the holiday tradition, Petrocci said.

It’s a fun, playful production with a cast of more than 100 people, including Petrocci herself as the Sugar Plum and her husband, Mark, artistic associate for both Berkshire Ballet and Summers Academy of Dance, as Cavalier. Both former lead artists for the Milwaukee Ballet, the couple first took the helm of the Berkshire Ballet Theatre’s “Nutcracker” last year and choreographed it together again this year.

With a young cast, it was a re-imagined version of the classic production then, and it continues to be this year.

The character of The Nutcracker will be performed by a senior in high school from Milwaukee Ballet. The scenes between him and Clara are lighter than typical “Nutcracker” productions, Petrocci said.

“Our Nutcracker is more like a big brother,” she said. “We want to keep it young. Our Clara is young and youthful. ... In the snow scene, it’s more about two kids playing in the snow versus a romantic interest.”

Speaking of snow, the dancers are encouraged to grab fistfuls of it from bins and throw it into the air during a snowball fight scene.

“It’s absolutely heavenly,” Petrocci said. “That’s the number one comment from patrons last year, how stunning the snow scene was. ... We want to keep that fun, playful excitement and high energy throughout the whole show, which is different than a lot of other takes on ‘The Nutcracker.’ ”

The dancers range in age from grade-schoolers to those in high school, with dancers of all levels performing together on stage, she said. The production not only highlights their dancing, but their theatrical and even their tumbling skills, she said.

“We have so many talented dancers at our studio that can also tumble, so our Russian is this explosion of exciting flip flops and tricks that will leave everyone standing on their feet,” she said.

Several of the scenes involve a wide age-range of dancers performing together, she said.

“That’s something our studio really focuses on is the unity,” she said.

A scene in which six young snowmen blow snow on The Nutcracker to wake him up after a fight with the fierce Mouse Queen, for instance, is “the sweetest image I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It’s so charming and special.”

By also dancing in the performance, Petrocci and her husband Mark experience the nerves along with them.

“They see how we warm up and what we go through,” she said. “We’re showing them what we teach them as well. … I don’t think many other studios have that opportunity to perform with their teachers. It’s something I don’t take for granted and neither does my husband.”

To be family friendly, this year’s production has new times – 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 16 and 1 p.m. Dec. 17 – “just after lunch or early enough to get everyone home for a nice dinner,” Petrocci said.

The McHenry County Youth Orchestra will perform in the lobby before each show. Tickets start at $25 at 815-356-9212 or

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