Andrew Lane has seen hundreds of performances of "The Nutcracker" over the years. The one he'll be seeing this weekend in Sarasota is among his favorites.
"I loved it when we did it last year," Lane said. "And this year, from what I've seen in rehearsals, they've refined it and it's even better."
Lane is the pops conductor for the Sarasota Orchestra, and this weekend he'll be leading the orchestra as it performs with the Sarasota Ballet in "John's Ringling's Circus Nutcracker," Saturday and Sunday at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
This will be just the second year that the Sarasota Ballet has performed the work, but it's already showing signs of developing into a local holiday tradition.
"Last year was the world premiere and people loved it," said Mary Anne Servian, the ballet's managing director. "At at the end, the entire audience sprang to their feet. Eleven hundred people. You should have seen it."
The ballet has the same essential Christmas story line as traditional versions of "The Nutcracker," which is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman. But it substitutes real-life members of the Ringling family for the familiar characters and moves the action from Europe in the Victorian era to New York City in 1930.
The story has John Ringling, shortly after the death of his wife, Mable, taking his family to New York for Christmas. They arrive in Grand Central Station just as the Ringling Brothers Circus Train is pulling away.
The dream sequence has the familiar elements of toys coming to life and a battle against monstrous dancing rodents. But its dream's subplot has a child from the Ringling family running away to join the circus.
"It has something for everyone," said Servian. "It has all the elements that children love, but it also has a love story for the adults, that kids just don't care about."
The love story involves John and Mable Ringling reuniting, at last in the ballet's fantasy world.
This version of "The Nutcracker" was created by British choreographer Matthew Hart, with sets and costumes by his fellow Briton Peter Docherty.
Both the sets and costumes evoke the art deco architecture that was in style in that era, especially in New York City. In one sequence, a chorus of dancers are costumed to look like the Chrysler building.
Of course, Tchaikovsky's gorgeous music, perhaps the most thoroughly familiar piece of classical music in existence, remains intact.
"There is no composer, right up to the present day, who is better than Tchaikovsky at conveying emotion through music," Lane said.
Details: Dec. 20-21, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $15-$100. Information: 941-359-0099, ext. 101, www.sarasotaballet.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.