This time of year, without fail, ballet companies from around the globe mark the holiday season by polishing up the most beloved yuletide spectacle in entertainment history, “The Nutcracker.”
If you go
WHAT: “The Nutcracker” by the Charleston Ballet TheatreWHEN: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15; 3 p.m. Dec. 16WHERE: North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum DriveCOST: $25-$47MORE INFO: 723-7334, www.charlestonballet.comWHAT: “Great Russian Nutcracker” by the Moscow BalletWHEN: 3 and 7 p.m. Dec. 23WHERE: North Charleston Performing Arts CenterCOST: $29-$89MORE INFO: 800-320-1733, www.nutcracker.com/ your-state/south-carolina
The persistent magic of the show has lasted 120 years — since its debut on the Maryinsky Stage in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia — and continues to warm the hearts of children and adults alike.
‘Nutcracker’: The story
The two-act ballet by Tchaikovsky originally was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The libretto was adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story called “The Nutcracker and The Mouse King,” which premiered in December 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia.Hoffmann’s heroine was named Marie, but in other versions, she is called Clara or even Masha. It begins at a Christmas Eve party in her family’s home, where she receives a nutcracker doll in the form of a soldier from her godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, who is a local councilman, magician and toymaker. Marie’s brother, Fritz, snatches her coveted gift, and the doll falls to the floor and breaks.Near midnight, she comes to check on the wooden Nutcracker, and as the clock strikes, her godfather mysteriously appears, the Nutcracker doll becomes real and the Christmas tree grows to enchanting proportions. Soon after, a band of mice appears, led by their Rat King, and a battle ensues.Winning the fight, the Nutcracker becomes a real prince and takes Marie through a snow-laden forest to an enchanted land, where they are entertained by sweets from around the world and a Sugar Plum Fairy. They live happily ever after.Eliza Ingle
Tchaikovsky’s score is equally as popular and transports the audience seamlessly through a holiday party of grand proportions, a snow-laden forest and a land where confectionery delights dance at the whim of a little girl, her prince and a Sugar Plum Fairy. The story, dancing and alluring music are a perfect blend of sweetness and beauty.
Both the Charleston Ballet Theatre and a visiting touring company, the Moscow Ballet, will perform this pearl during the countdown to Christmas.
Local dancer and artistic director of the Summerville Civic Ballet Douglas Smoak serves as the community coordinator for Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” which uses 96 children from the tri-county area in its production.
“It’s OK to have different versions of the same ballet in one city because the interpretations and choreography are so different from company to company,” Smoak said. “The Nutcracker is a holiday staple; people will go see it year after year.”
Charleston Ballet’s Jill Eathorne-Bahr, choreographer-in-residence, has been producing her own version of the 19th-century classic since 1992.
“The best thing about being the resident choreographer of the CBT Nutcracker each year is that I own the choreography,” she wrote in an email. “That basic fact enables me to allow whatever shining star propels out each year the chance to shine.”
Bahr described several new surprises in a production that, from the beginning, had an original twist, being set in the East Bay Street home of the Lowndes family.
“This year, more than any other, I have made drastic changes to tailor the production not only to the seasoned pros of the company, but also to the very, very talented young dancers we have in the school, plus dancers from the Dorchester 2 and North Charleston area that wanted to audition.”
Highlights will include a never before seen or heard processional at the beginning of Act Two, a Chinese dragon designed by Travis Halsey of Joffrey Ballet fame and an appearance by local veteran actor Steve Lepre, who plays Drosselmeyer.
Emma Sossamon, a 13-year-old dancer in the production and the daughter of CBT board member Nina Sossamon-Pogue, said the show is dynamic and great fun.
“The party scene is my favorite part,” Emma said. “There are so many people on stage, and there are older party girls who get to do more challenging choreography. My ‘dad’ in the party scene is Alexey Kulpin,” who is a recent addition to CBT’s roster of professional dancers, now in his second season. “It’s fun to get to do a father-daughter dance with the principal male dancer.”
“The Nutcracker” certainly grants young people, whether dancers on stage or spectators in the seats, a special opportunity, Smoak agreed.
“ ‘The Nutcracker’ ... appeals not only to ballet lovers, but to everyone who likes to go to the theater, Smoak said. “It has a little bit of everything — a party, a fight scene, magic, a love story. The children participating are enthralled by it every year. They love to be onstage with the professionals, and it makes them strive to become better dancers.”
Eliza Ingle is a professor of dance at the College of Charleston and a Post and Courier contributor.