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Holiday Memories
A collection of some of our favorite pictures, quotes, and information tidbits on this favorite Bay Area Holiday tradition






Mark Morris' The Hard Nut
A Look Back


Featuring exclusive interviews with choreographer Mark Morris, performance footage, and more!

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The Snowflakes scene in Act 2 of The Hard Nut,with its rhythmical sprays of stardust and its gender-blind casting of the corps, is also a sublime marriage of wit, music and movement. Morris' is the most exhilarating version of this moment since Balanchine's. The giddy, precise execution of this choreography by the Mark Morris Dance Group was electrifying -- more than once, the Berkeley audience simply burst into cheers in the middle of the scene...-- Octavio Roca, original 1996 Cal Performances West Coast premiere review in the San Francisco Chronicle
One of the most remarkable things about Morris' choreography is the way he manages to mix heartfelt emotion with deep comedy...The Hard Nut is always a delight, and it only grows more funny and meaningful with each passing year -- Anita Amirizvanni, Contra Costa Times
There are dance experiences that generate awe, and there are dance experiences that inspire affection. But there are far fewer that automatically make the lips curl in a broad smile, even at the very thought. Mark Morris' The Hard Nut, the Bay Area's most offbeat and most rejuvenating holiday dance tradition, falls into that special category... [A] reasonably modern, deceptively irreverent, strikingly designed, peerlessly musical and unexpectedly touching reconsideration of Nutcracker -- Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Chronicle
Yet the effect is to deepen our love of the original Nutcracker as well as to make us smile and marvel at the outrageous originality of Morris' genius in retelling it. -- Octavio Roca, original 1996 Cal Performances West Coast premiere review in the San Francisco Chronicle
This is THE holiday event of the year! Take your ballet hating husband, your fidgety kids, your whacky friends, your grumpy grandpa, absolutely everyone LOVES this show and comes out busting with smiles and laughter...By far this is the most fun you'll have at any Christmas event this year -- Sheba Bechtol, Cal Performances PatronPity not the child who has been weaned on Mark Morris' enchanting lunatic version of Nutcracker. With all the makeovers the original story has had, throwing in the confusion of go-go boots, Barbie Dolls and gender-swapping roles has simply made it a ballet of our times -- and the roaring crowds who return every year attest to its touching, comic endurance. -- Contra Costa Times


Our entire family loves The Hard Nut, ages 19 to 62. It is an original, funny and thoroughly entertaining performance. It is hard to pinpoint a favorite moment, but the 'Waltz of the Flowers' stands out."
— John Byrom, Cal Performances Patron


"This year's performances of The Hard Nut in Berkeley mark my 9th year playing the role of Marie. Revisiting her each year allows me to delve deeper into the part, hopefully bringing more nuance to a role that has been a highlight of my career. As a bonus, my task of falling in love with the Nutcracker is made easy by the fact that he is played by my husband, David Leventhal. The smiles, gazes, swoons and kisses are all real." — Lauren Grant (MMDG dancer who performs the role of Marie)


Johan Henckens, our wonderful technical director, has the enormous responsibility of calling every show, which means telling technicians in various parts of the theater when to hit the next light cue, raise the curtain, or move scenery. Timing is crucial: huge set pieces move in and out of a crowded, dark space populated by distracted dancers, many of whom are wearing masks or headpieces that limit their ability to see. Johan's timing is impeccable, but sometimes the crew doesn't follow through properly. At the end of the battle scene, a huge scrim with an explosion design falls inches upstage of where I'm standing. That's scary enough. Then, at the beginning of my duet with Drosselmeyer, I run across the stage in a curve at the same time that the scrim flies up so I can meet Craig Biesecker in the middle of the stage. But in one performance I'll never forget, the drop never flew and I found myself about to careen into it like a fly to a web. As in a bad accident, the brain slows down what it sees while it goes into overdrive. Trying to remain in character, I reached down as gracefully as I could to pull the heavy scrim up over my head and run under it. To fend off internal embarrassment, I tried to think of my lift and tuck move as the Nutcracker's final challenge before he's allowed to become a young man. And I've always hoped the audience that night had the same interpretation."
— David Leventhal (MMDG dancer who performs the Nutcracker/Young Drosselmeier roles)


It's fun, it's beautiful, it's joyful. The snowflake dance alone is worth the price of admission. The last time I saw it, the Wall Street Journal had an article about that scene in their 'Masterpiece' section. It is."
— Adrienne Eng, Cal Performances Patron


The end of Act One is one of the most brilliant ensemble pieces I've ever seen. It looks very funny, but it's also very complicated. Sometimes the dancers are up in the air on the downbeat, and you see how Mark understood this phenomenon in the music of working across the beats. It's very surprising, and a brilliant theatrical stroke."
Hard Nut conductor (and former Cal Performances Director) Robert Cole, as quoted in the San Francisco Examiner, 1999.

My partner and I rotate our yearly 'Nutcracker' experience between San Francisco Ballet, Mark Morris' 'Hard Nut' and San Jose Ballet. None of the other performances can rival the feeling of pure joy we both get from watching the 'Waltz of the Snowflakes' in the 'Hard Nut'. The first time we saw almost the entire company dancing and spreading the 'snowflakes' from their hands — we both cried. We look forward to seeing the entire production, but it's not Christmas until we see the snowflakes fill the stage in Berkeley." — David Getz, Cal Performances Patron


Attending The Hard Nut was my first time watching a performance in Zellerbach as a student at UC Berkeley. I feel so lucky to have such a great performing arts center right on campus!"
— Elaine Wu, Cal Performances Patron
"Mr. Morris's handsome, witty and moving production...remains as savvy as it is theatrically winning...as time passes, his idiosyncratic staging stands to become as famous and lasting as Balanchine's traditional rendering." Wall Street Journal


One of my guests last year was a 12 year-old boy...a hard age group to impress. He was smitten and really enjoyed himself, much as he hated to admit it. He thought he was being dragged to something 'uncool'. This show raised my status as a wonderful 'aunt'."
— Charlotte Tlachac, Cal Performances Patron

"I've always loved The Nutcracker, but wanted to try a different holiday show. The Hard Nut is a fabulous twist on a classic. It offers a fun escape from holiday craziness. The Dance of the Snowflakes is something that must be experienced. I still laugh when I think about it. I encourage people to gather friends and family together for a shared holiday experience that is sure to make everyone laugh at least once."
— Mary Ann Faue, Cal Performances Patron


Ode to The Hard Nut
Christmas madness got you dizzy?
Unbought presents? Way too busy?
What you need is Morris magic—
two hours inside his world fantastic.
This is not Tchaikovsky's snoozer,
it's a party filled with boozers!
Crazy snowflakes! Rats and fairies!
You'll come out refreshed and merry."
— Michael Ford, Cal Performances Patron





This is ballet vérité. It's not pretend. It's theatrical and broad and big. But the story is really plain and simple and true.
— Mark Morris,
The New York Times,
December 1992
A COLLAGE OF 'HARD NUT' MEMORIES... The 6:00 pm make-up call/gossip session/gender reassignment with artist Sara Beukers; Mark Morris leading us in a round of Christmas carols at Wendy Lesser's post-performance party; the unimpressed employees of "Nails" on 28th Street, where I go for Mrs. Stahlbaum's pink extensions (its not pink; its "ballet slipper"); choking on a snowflake wrapped in costume rat fur (Hard Nut sushi); dancing the "Waltz of the Flowers"; The Great Stomach Virus of 1998; screaming with joy the first time I saw the climax of "Snow"; June Omura's (Fritz) wonderful annual Christmas present: an envelope for each cast member filled with photographs taken throughout the year. This excellent tradition is the one between the final matinee and evening performances, when we all sit around and look at each other's gift pictures."
— John Heginbotham (MMDG dancer who performs the Mrs. Stahlbaum/Queen roles)


We've seen The Hard Nut twice and could never grow tired of it. Every moment is completely inspired. It's up there in the dozen most wonderful, exciting things I've ever seen in a theater, including the original West Side Story, the Royal Shakespeare's Enemies and Richard II, anything with Jason Robards, Olivier as Archie Rice and Margot Fonteyn dancing Juliet. My very cool twelve-year-old danced all the way down Bancroft when he left Zellerbach."
— Hal Gelb, Cal Performances Patron


I've seen it three times so far and will be going many times more. since half the fun is introducing new people to the Hard Nut experience, I'll be going until I run out of friends."
— Patricia Erickson, Cal Performances Patron

" Here, the sweetness of its final moments contrasts with the sleezy boisterousness of its 1970s party...One of the beauties of Morris's initially flippant, joke filled work, in addition to the multigendered dances for energetically drifting Snowflakes and lush flowers, is that everyone in the ballet works to bring these two together, they are lifted by hordes of Chinese dancers and rats and soldiers and snowflakes and flowers and more, pouring onstage like waves of love to wash them into each other's arms"
— Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice


Related Links

Selected Online Reviews

1996
Original West Coast premiere review
Mark Morris — What a 'Nut'! Local premiere of joyful, funny work San Francisco Chronicle


1998
All it's cracked up to be: Mark Morris' "The Hard Nut' a new holiday staple
Allan Ulrich
San Francisco Examiner


1999
Culture Vulture online review


2001
criticaldance.com online review


2002
Crack That Nut, Girl: Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!
Village Voice


2002
Crossing Lines in Plot and Dress in 'Hard Nut'
New York Times
(free registration required)


2003
Dance Review: Mark Morris Dance Group, The Hard Nut
Voice of Dance review


2003
Lyrical, Witty and Nutty as a Fruitcake: The Hard Nut Swings Back Into Town
The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition online review


2004
There's only one Mark Morris
The Sunday Times (London)


2007
A 'Nutcracker' Like No Other: Mark Morris's 'Hard Nut' abounds in witty, snowy delights
Wall Street Journal


Program Notes

2003

2005

2007

Other Links

Mark Morris Dance Group site

Where to buy The Hard Nut on video

Special thanks from Cal Performances to all patrons who were willing to share their Hard Nut memories with us. And congratulations to Catherine Mahoney, Eileen Stewart, Amy Aldrich, and Joanne Backman who each won a pair of tickets to see The Hard Nut in a random drawing of entrants!