From left: The Hard Nut: courtesy of BAM; The Nutcracker: courtesy of Fabrizio Ferri

It’s not just the Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince who’ll be duking it out this holiday season. Come December, three of the country’s premier dance troupes will face off in New York with competing versions of The Nutcracker. Uptown at Lincoln Center (November 26 to January 2, 2011), New York City Ballet performs George Balanchine’s transporting 1954 production, a marvel of dance and storytelling that’s not just a perennial classic but something of a cash cow, accounting for 40 percent of City Ballet’s annual box office. Meanwhile, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (December 23 to January 2, 2011), American Ballet Theatre rolls out its brand-new take on The Nutcracker by its artist-in-residence Alexei Ratmansky, the former Bolshoi Ballet director who has emerged as an It choreographer on the international scene. Known for his endlessly inventive dances shot through with humor, Ratmansky says his Nutcracker will “go deep inside the moods of the music” rather than break new ground. “Tchaikovsky did a great job in describing the truth of childhood emotions,” he says. “What’s extremely challenging is finding the right balance between the huge drama in the music and the slight story about a little girl’s journey to the beautiful Land of Sweets.” For those who like their sugar with a little spice, Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut, also at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (December 10 to 19), offers treats aplenty. Morris’s saucy rendition transplants the story from the 1890s to the swinging Seventies and features a gender-bending cast, bratty kids, and a dysfunctional suburban family Christmas party at which the only refreshments served are hard liquor. Candyland, indeed.

The Hard Nut: courtesy of BAM; The Nutcracker: courtesy of Fabrizio Ferri