Kinetics Dance Theatre presents its unique "The Cracked Nut," a funky twist on the original narrative, this weekend, Dec. 3-4 at the Howard County Center for the Arts. Call 410-480-1686 for details.

Cindee Velle's charming Columbia Chamber Ballet brings back its abbreviated version of "The Nutcracker" to our area in a number of free and paid public showcases. Again, as in the past two decades, this fine production features the best parts of the ballet, including the children's march and the battle scene between the mice and the soldiers — plus it has angels, snowflakes, candy canes and solo variations galore.

Catch the Columbia Chamber Ballet dancers this Saturday, Dec. 3, at the National Aquarium, where there's an $8 admission after 5 p.m. (go to http://www.aqua.org). The following day, the troupe performs at the Howard County Arts Council's Black Box Theatre, Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. The admission is $5 for ages 2 and older. Next, comes a return to home-based Stonehouse in the Village of Long Reach Saturday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. Admission here is free, though advanced reservations are required.


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The troupe performs for the Fairhaven Retirement Community in Sykesville Sunday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m., followed by a gig at the Vantage House Retirement Community in Columbia, Monday, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m. The "Nuts" finale takes place in the Great Room in Historic Savage Mill, with a $5 admission at the door. For more information, call 410-465-7674 or go to http://www.cindeevelleballet.com.

'Nuts' is also nice on ice

Even if you're already acquainted with the Snow Queen, her Cavalier, and the magical Uncle Drosselmeyer, chances are you're not used to seeing them come gliding in on a wintry sheet of ice. Kudos to the Columbia Figure Skating Club for a singular winter wonderland production of "The Nutcracker on Ice," featuring some 80 skaters as a variety of familiar characters.

This fast-paced version will be presented four times at the Columbia Ice Rink, Dec. 17-18. General admission is $12, with little ones, age 2 and younger, free. Due to the popularity of this show, advanced ticket purchase is a must. Don't forget to bring a lap blanket and warm coat. Call 410-730-0321.

Other areas go 'Nuts'

Guest artists add extra sweetness to local "Nuts," and this season we'll be treated to stars of American Ballet Theater in two Baltimore area locations. The Carroll County Dance Center welcomes ABT dancers in the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10-11. Look for lots of Howard County kids in the ranks of this talented group.

The Baltimore Ballet always puts on a fine production of "The Nutcracker," and the professional dancers included this year are awesome. Tickets may already be sold-out for the performances at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium Saturday, Dec. 10, at 6:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 11, at 4 p.m. Any tickets available at the door will go for $40, general; $20 for children younger than 12. For a better deal, go to http://www.baltimoreballet.org.

Russian to make the dance

For sheer splendor and elegant dancing, nothing tops Moscow Ballet's "Great Russian Nutcracker" at the Lyric Opera House, Dec. 17-18. The Baltimore cast boasts award-winning dancers Karyna Shatkovskaya as Masha (Clara) and Vladimir Tkachenko as the Nutcracker Prince, along with a corps of 40 Russian dancers in over 200 lavish costumes.

Tickets are pricey here, and the VIP package features orchestra center seating and selected souvenirs. The best seats sell out quickly, so call or contact online Ticketmaster. And if you attend, look for young Vivian Yancey, 8; and AiAi Calmer, 7, in the children's scenes. Both girls attend classes at Misako Ballet Studio in Columbia.

For my kopeks (or rubels), I'm banking on Howard County's own L'Etoile Ballet/The Russian Ballet Academy of Maryland. The second annual production of their authentic Russian "Nutcracker" will be danced in the Century High School Auditorium, in Sykesville, Saturday, Dec. 10, at 2 and 6 p.m.

This is a full-length staging with gorgeous backdrops, handmade props, a growing Christmas tree and talented young dancers. Guest artists include Violeta Angelova, a world-class ballerina; and Michael Cook — both recently seen with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center. There will also be a special appearance by Vadim Pijicov, who is always a delight to watch. Three dozen elementary, middle and high school dancers are also part of this production, lovingly directed by Svetlana Kravtsova. Call 443-393-1197 or go to http://www.russballet.org.