Going to see the ballet of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for many people and most of the performances are fairly similar. The Hard Nut by choreographer Mark Morris – which is in Berkeley again this year, through Cal Performances from the 15th to the 24th – has also become a tradition, but it’s unlike other Nutcrackers. He chose to go back to the full music and the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and was inspired by the cartoon art of Charles Burns.

There’s more information about “The Hard Nut” at the Cal Performances website.

Mark Morris says the unique look of the production harkens back to the 1960s or 70’s: “It’s not ‘Laugh-In’, although that dates me already, and I love how “Laugh-In’ looks. It’s a little ‘Carol Burnett Show,’ and it’s a little whatever I’m remembering, and whatever we felt like making up.” But he points out that previous settings of the ballet were set in a vague, nostalgic way. “I don’t know where most of them take place – it’s like somewhere in deepest darkest Germany. Obviously the San Francisco one takes place in San Francisco, the relatively recent one that Helgi [Tomasson, of SF Ballet] did. But very often it’s just like in some mysterious other time, when everybody behaved in a different way.”

Here’s the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” from The Hard Nut… As Morris describes, the way the snow is spread by the dancers is “magic…and a lot of work” –  and an artistic decision helped along by the necessity of not being able to hang a bag of snow above the stage when it was first performed more than 25 years ago.

Mark Morris describes his ballet to Tchaikovsky’s music and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story this way: “It’s a deeper story, a scarier story, it’s a little bit more complicated… It’s not a parody, it’s not a satire. It’s a reading of a beautiful score of music, and a ballet that was a big flop when it happened a long time ago. There are many versions, many readings of this piece, and mine is one of them, and it’s been around for a long time by now!”