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Posts Tagged ‘Nutcracker’

Photo: Alexander Izilieav /Miami New Times
Miami City Ballet is one of the few national ballet companies this year putting on a production of The Nutcracker.

Holidays go on, one way or another. On Friday, our church had an online carol sing (secret of success: only one person unmuted at a time), and I was able to see my grandchildren in two different states mouthing the words and dancing. Someone else I know watched her friend’s son perform (virtually) as the Prince in a local Nutcracker. In Miami, another Nutcracker is taking place outdoors.

Gia Kourlas reports at the New York Times, “Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, is facing a new unknown. It’s a fear she’s never had. And it stresses her out.

“ ‘I just hope that at the last minute that they don’t close us down,’ she said. …

“Against the odds during a pandemic, the company will present its reimagined production of ‘George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker’ this month. Normally, Ms. Lopez said, her worries would fall more along the lines of, are the costumes going to be ready? …

“Now she is thinking about the backstage choreography of the crew and the dancers, since masks will not be worn during performances. ‘We have to make sure that when you’re exiting, no one is in that wing,’ she said. …

“ ‘The Nutcracker’ ” is more than a beloved holiday staple. For ballet companies across the country it’s a financial lifeline that supports the repertory for the rest of the year. This year, most productions have been relegated to virtual offerings, but Miami has something that some other cities, like New York, don’t: warm weather at holiday time.

“The company’s production of Balanchine’s 1954 classic already pops with an abundance of color and heat. In 2017, it was given a vibrant Miami makeover, with designs and costumes by Isabel and Ruben Toledo and projections by Wendall K. Harrington. …

“Miami City Ballet’s production is, Ms. Lopez noted, a true community effort. ‘Think of a hospital, a government agency, a real estate investment firm and a ballet company somehow coming to the table,’ she said. ‘Never in my wildest dreams would I ever, ever have thought of that.’

“She hadn’t planned for this to happen.

‘This is not because I’m a visionary,’ Ms. Lopez said. ‘It was just opportunities that arose and it came, honestly, from a “What can we do?” ‘ …

“It was Ms. Harrington who, over the summer, suggested to Ms. Lopez that the company should present a ‘Nutcracker.’ … ‘I’m not like the hugest fan of “The Nutcracker” in all the world, but I do know of its healing effects,’ she said. ‘And right now we need a little Christmas, as the song goes.’ …

“The company has teamed up with a health care partner, Baptist Health South Florida, and abides by a stringent testing and safety protocol. Masked audience members will be seated in socially distanced pods that accommodate up to four people each. The intermission has been cut to five minutes — more of a pause — and the idea is to get people in and out efficiently.

“Ms. Lopez credited early actions that the Miami City Ballet organization took when the coronavirus forced a shutdown in March. It quickly formed a Covid task force, which led to engaging an industrial hygienist who examined the studios for safety. …

“Ms. Lopez was able to hold the school’s summer course — an indoor, in-person program for 100 students — for five weeks in July. ‘We were biting our nails because Florida in July was a red-hot state,’ she said. ‘And we didn’t have one single case in those five weeks. We sent the staff home. You couldn’t come into the building if you weren’t part of the school or faculty.

“ ‘And so there was a real sense that we could do this, that we knew how to do it safely in the building. That’s really how it started.”

“When Downtown Doral Park became available, Ms. Harrington refocused her thinking. … ‘I had to look through the ballet and figure out how the storytelling can continue without the numbers of people that you would want in the party scene and the battle scene. … One big change is an Act 2 overture in place of the young children who usually play Angels. For it, she created a journey from the snow scene that ends Act 1 to the beach, ‘because it’s Miami,’ Ms. Harrington said. …

[Ms. Harrington] was always baffled by the abrupt change in setting, from the Act 1 snow scene to Act 2’s tropical Land of the Sweets. ‘It was snowy and now there’s a pineapple onstage,’ she said. … ‘It was within my grasp to fill in the gaps. …

“ ‘I felt like this could be a thrill. I hope I’m right. I believe in theater and art. … I just needed it to happen.”

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snowflake1110

Photo: Brian Feulner, Special to the Chronicle
Joan Vickers, 92, was a snowflake in the first production of San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker” in 1944.

I was surprised to learn that the “Nutcracker” ballet — which my youngest granddaughter and thousands of little girls and boys around the world were part of this past Christmas — was first performed in the United States in 1944. I guess I thought it was eternal. How could there ever have been a time that the “Nutcracker” was not performed at Christmas? But such is the case. And every ballet company that performs it now does something different to make the event its own.

Sam Whiting reports at the San Francisco Chronicle, “It was wartime 1944 when San Francisco first felt the magic of a Christmas Eve snowfall. It lasted 10 minutes, and Joan Vickers remembers it clearly.

“Vickers was in the first full-length ‘Nutcracker’ to be staged in America, a San Francisco Ballet production at the War Memorial Opera House. Act 1 ended in the Land of the Snowflakes, according to the program, and there were no special effects. There was only a 17-year-old Vickers and 15 other corps members dressed in white. They each held a stick with a white star at the tip of it, and they waved them around like sparklers.

“ ‘We became the snow,’ said the now 92-year-old Vickers, from her home in Alameda. ‘The audience was amazed and in awe.’

“Bay Area audiences continue to be in awe as the holiday tradition continues, and the snow scene has only intensified over the decades. ‘Nutcracker’ has been updated four times — in 1954, 1967, 1986 and 2004 — with the last revision orchestrated by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, who took the setting from snowbound 19th century Europe to 20th century San Francisco … when a jeweled city rose straight out of the sand to form the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

“Despite the Mediterranean climate, the snow still falls, though in this production, it comes in the form of 600 pounds of confetti dropped from the fly space by a six-person crew. …

“ ‘As a child (in Iceland), I was always amazed at what a snowstorm can look like and how monumental and beautiful they can be,’ said Tomasson by email from Copenhagen, where the company was on tour. ‘I wanted to re-create that personal memory for San Francisco.’

“The snow falls with a ferocity probably unmatched by any other production of ‘Nutcracker,’ which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892 with an original score by Tchaikovsky and is now revived in some form each Christmas season by just about every ballet company.

“The ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’ is so beloved that it has its own YouTube category. … In San Francisco it comes down like it does in the film ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller,’ which is to say once it starts it doesn’t stop. It gets in the hair and the eyelashes of the dancers, and piles up on the floor to slicken the stage. …

“Jasmine Jimison, a 17-year-old member of the corps de ballet, said it can be arduous to dance upon ‘the snow’ each night, even with caking her slippers in rosin to take the stage.

“ ‘Dancing in the snow scene is an experience like no other. It’s scary and exciting at the same time,’ said Jimison, also reached in Copenhagen last week. ‘There’s always the stress of not slipping or having enough stamina, especially once the snow starts falling really hard toward the end. I’m so exhausted by that point that my legs feel like Jell-O and I can barely see, but adrenaline helps push me through, and the escalating music adds to it.’ …

“Artistic Director Willam Christensen designed [the first US ‘Nutcracker’] as a one-season production inspired by a San Francisco visit by George Balanchine in the fall of 1944. Balanchine had danced in the full-length production of ‘Nutcracker’ in Russia and encouraged Christensen to create his own. …

“The restrictions of the war effort necessitated that budgets and materials were tight. There was only $1,000 allotted for costumes … so all of the red velvet for the outfits came from the curtain of the Cort Theater on Ellis Street, which had been demolished. … The opera house was under a blackout order, and air raid wardens were in the audience ready to blow their whistles.

“The production then went on the road to Oakland, Sacramento and Stockton, and that was to be the end of it. The following Christmas, Christensen mounted ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘it was a failure,’ Vickers said. They tried other productions, but nothing else worked, so in 1948 Christensen brought back ‘Nutcracker’ for good.”

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