It just wouldn’t be the holiday season without The Nutcracker, the ballet that tells a little girl’s dream journey through elaborate fantasy lands full of dancing flowers and sweets, set to the soaring music of famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
The ballet is based on a stage adaptation by Three Musketeers author Alexandre Dumas of the 1819 E. T. A. Hoffmann story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” One reason for its enduring popularity among adults and children is the universality of secular, celebratory Christmas festivities experienced by children worldwide: the toys, the snowflakes, the gifts, the parties, the candy. The Nutcracker’s petite heroine, Clara, dreams of these all coming to life, and performing for her on Christmas Eve.
Columbia is known for its plethora of ballet schools and studios and dance companies, many of which annually stage their own unique interpretations of this perennial winter classic. Here’s a quick guide to three prominent productions — and which one might be right for you.
If Your Holidays Begin on Thanksgiving, and/or If You Need Live Music With Your Dance:
Ann Brodie’s Carolina Ballet celebrates its 32nd performance season with the only full-length local production of The Nutcracker that offers a full orchestra and choir performing live. The dancers are joined by the Columbia Festival Orchestra, conducted by Neil Casey, and the Capella Pueri from St. Peter’s Catholic School, under the direction of Jordan DeRouen.
A civic, pre-professional company under the general direction of John Whitehead, Carolina Ballet’s production utilizes the linear notes in the conductor’s score, i.e. the working notes between composer and choreographer, which were used for the original 1892 production in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Whitehead says that company founder Ann Brodie “introduced the character of The Widow in the first act. She is the mysterious guest who scandalizes the party guests,” and will be portrayed this year by Artistic Director Mimi Worrell. Guest artists will include Cooper Rust and Bo Busby — both former Carolina Ballet performers, and former students of Brodie and Worrell — as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. There’s even a surprise cameo by Hunka Munka, one of Beatrix Potter’s Two Bad Mice. The production features more than 150 performers in all.
Carolina Ballet performs The Nutcracker Nov. 27 at 10 a.m., Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 1 at 3 p.m. at the Township Auditorium. Tickets are $15.50-$21.50. Visit carolinaballet.net. For more info.
If You’re Yearning for An International Cast and Performance Virtuosity:
Columbia Classical Ballet founder and Artistic Director Radenko Pavlovich is a native of Sarajevo (in the former Yugoslavia), has danced with and studied under both Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolph Nuryev, and trained in St. Petersburg, Russia, and at the Royal Ballet School in London, England.
“What sets our Nutcracker performances apart from others in Columbia,” posits the ballet’s Scott Davis, “is the award-winning talent that Radenko attracts from around the world because of his ability to help young, skilled dancers reach their potential.”
The cast includes principal dancers Nao Omoya, a native of Shiga, Japan, who has trained with the Jun Ballet and the Kyoto Ballet, and Clément Guillaume, who comes to Columbia from Poitiers, France, after studying at the Dutch National Ballet Academy in Amsterdam. They are joined by soloist Akira Iida, from Osaka, Japan, and Brianna Taylor, from right here in Columbia, along with a cameo appearance by WIS-TV morning anchor Leland Pinder.
Columbia Classical Ballet performs The Nutcracker at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7 and at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8 at the Koger Center. Tickets are $5-$35. Find out more at columbiaclassicalballet.com.
If You’re Looking for Spectacle and Celebrities:
Now in its 59th consecutive performance season, Columbia City Ballet boasts the longest continuously running performing arts event in the state with its Nutcracker.
“Our long history of high production and artistic standards are what set us apart,” offers CCB Director of Development Jamie White, the ballet’s director of development.
He notes that this year’s iteration is “a star-studded event,” featuring appearances by Katherine LaNasa, star of the CW’s upcoming Riverdale spin-off series Katy Keene, and her husband Grant Show, best known as Jake on 1990’s soap opera Melrose Place and as Blake Carrington in the CW’s rebooted Dynasty. Local audiences may recall Show’s swoon-worthy, bare-chested turn as the Prince of Darkness in City Ballet’s Dracula: Ballet With a Bite in 2013. The couple will appear in performances the weekend of Dec. 21, while Mariclare Miranda a former City Ballet prima ballerina, and long-serving Artistic and Executive Director William Starrett will appear onstage on the weekend of Dec. 14.
Starrett, who was proclaimed by Dance Magazine in the ’70s as “the ultimate Nutcracker Prince,” performed the role as a guest artist in 29 countries, with 40 separate dance companies. His version is based on choreography that can be traced back to acclaimed Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, and traditionally features lots of spectacle, special effects and snow mixed with glitter.
Columbia City Ballet performs Nutcracker at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and 21 and at 3 p.m. Dec. 14, 15, 21 and 22 at the Koger Center. Tickets are $30. Find out more at columbiacityballet.com.
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