Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker is that neighbor who has been showing up with presents to your family's Christmas party for so many years that you take his presence for granted.---

The music from Tchaikovsky's holiday ballet suite is so well-known that a Kirov Orchestra and Valery Gergiev recording of the second act's "Character Dances" somehow found its way onto last year's free iTunes Store Holiday Music Sampler, alongside such musical anachronisms as Weezer's "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and Stephen Colbert's "Another Christmas Song."

Credits: Chris Corrie

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet's Nutcracker production, which Pages & Stages attended on Dec. 11, was both glitzy and cutesy. Heavy special effects—including flash powder, fog machines and a disco ball—approached over-the-top, especially during the battle between the Nutcracker (Nolan DeMarco McGahan) and the Rat King (William Cannon), yet added a sense of ambiance during the more downplayed Kingdom of Snow scene.

Act 2 was marked by impressive performances of the various aforementioned character dances. The Spanish (Seia Rassenti) added a taste of minimalist flamenco flair, which contrasted sharply the extravagant carnival setting for Land of the Sweets and its bumblebee-resplendent munchkins. The Arabian (Katrina Amerine and William Cannon) wowed the audience with a hanging-cloth routine and carefully projected shadow-play in the wings, and the Chinese (Zhongmei Li) was a colorful and fluid dance with flowing long sleeves.

Although she spent most of Act 2 sitting quietly on a merry-go-round horse, Clara (Hanna Bass) commanded an elegant stage presence. In her dances with the party girls, the Nutcracker and the Jack in the Box during Act 1, she moved purposefully and with grace and, when she withdrew to a bystander's role during Act 2, she added a flair of character to each scene.