As the days grow shorter here in the Valley, we begin to hear whispers of that famous annual December celebration. Children look forward to it for months, and adults go shopping early to make sure they get everything they need before the best stock is sold. I’m talking, of course, about The Nutcracker.

First performed in 19th Century Russia, the fan-favorite ballet has been a staple of the holiday season in the Valley for years, and for many the Pioneer Valley Ballet’s December run at the Academy of Music in Northampton has become a generation-spanning family tradition. But it also helps broaden the audience for ballet in general; later this season the Academy will also host an Amherst Ballet Company production of Snow White, and a one-night-only show of A Celtic Nutcracker from local dance company Celtic Heels. And this week, Amherst Cinema and Hadley’s Cinemark theater get in on the tradition with (filmed) ballets of their own.

Both movies feature one of the world’s most famous troupes, the Bolshoi Ballet, in performances recorded for presentation in cinemas worldwide. Unfortunately for balletomanes, both shows are at the same time on Sunday — the curtain goes up at 12:55 — so you’ll have to miss one. As it happens, the productions are quite different, which (especially if you’re planning to bring your own little dancers) might make the choice a bit easier.

At Amherst is the Bolshoi’s take on Le Corsaire, a ballet based on an epic poem by Lord Byron. A grand romance set in a bustling Turkish market, it follows the pirate Conrad as he falls in love with Medora, the ward of a local slave merchant. Music by Adolphe Adam and an elaborate shipwreck set piece — along with a full corps of dancers filling the exotic bazaar — help bring the story to life. The choreography for all those dancers is by Alexei Ratmansky, based on Marius Petipa’s famous series of 19th century revivals.

Down Route 9 in Hadley, Cinemark screens the decidedly more modern Bolshoi take on The Taming of the Shrew. Choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot focuses on the athleticism and strength of the dancers bodies in a production described as an “energetic ballet for grown-ups.” Performing to the music of Shostakovich, leads Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov bring Shakespeare’s classic “battle of the sexes” tale into our own time — and give theatergoers an opportunity to discuss the tone of the original play, often seen as sexist, versus this production’s take. One note: this production is generally recommended for mature teenagers and older viewers.


Also this week: the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst hosts a Sunday screening of Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana. A 84-minute documentary by Gabrielle Zilkha, the film, filmed over a five-year period of visits, is an exploration of the background and day-to-day lives of Jews living in the Sefwi Wiawso district of Ghana. Remarkably, they were unaware for many years that they were part of a larger worldwide religion, and yet these Jews of Ghana followed kosher dietary laws and observed other Judaic practices for centuries. Now, leader Alex Armah dreams of connecting his congregation with other Jewish enclaves worldwide to find acceptance and a better knowledge of his people’s history. As she delves deeper into the Sefwi history, Zilkha also explores the wider question of what it means to be Jewish, consulting religious figures from Miami to Montreal as she wraps her head around her new, suddenly less isolated, community.

Jack Brown can be reached at