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The Nutcracker 2011
A holiday tradition returns with just a few new moves
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The Fort Wayne Ballet’s Artistic Director Karen Gibbons-Brown was on her way to a meeting at one of the local hospitals when she was recognized by a woman who was watering plants in the lobby.
“She said, ‘I go to The Nutcracker every season and I can always tell the new things you do. I really love how you change it just a little bit every year’,” Gibbons-Browns tells me. “And I thought ‘well, that’s a little bit of pressure’.”
Pressure or not, Gibbons-Brown never seems to lack for ideas. During the Fort Wayne Ballet’s annual run of The Nutcracker, Gibbons-Brown watches each performance and takes notes for the dancers. “But on the last night, I just watch, and think about things we could change or add for next year,” she says. “And sometimes, they think I’m crazy.”
But other times, some of those “crazy” ideas work out very well.
Case in point: last year’s “Muttcracker,” a collaboration between the Fort Wayne Ballet and Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. During the 2010 production of The Nutcracker, dogs available for adoption were briefly featured in the famous Christmas party scene in the ballet, being walked across stage by their “owners.” The dogs were out in the lobby during intermission, with folks from Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control on hand to answer any questions and provide information on adopting those or any other animals.
Two different dogs were featured per show, and the collaboration was very popular and a big success — all the animals were adopted by the end of The Nutcracker’s run.
Of course, the Fort Wayne Ballet is doing it again for the 2011 edition of The Nutcracker, but one of the more interesting developments is that several other ballet companies across the country have also picked up on the idea. “There are six that we know of,” Gibbons-Brown says. “There’s Boca Ballet, Richmond Ballet… and several others.”
“One of the things ballet companies across the country do — and we do it here, at the Fort Wayne Ballet — are different community service projects, giving back to the community that supports you,” she continues. “With adopting these animals… every community has this need. So we always tell these other organizations ‘we’ll be happy to give you our information; you’ll do it your own way for your community, just please let us know how it went for your organization’.” They’ve even established a website (muttcrackerx10.wordpress.com) detailing the steps the Fort Wayne Ballet and Animal Care and Control used in setting up the program. “A lot of groups I’ve spoken with have said ‘this is very helpful, because we didn’t have a prototype to follow’.”
But of course the dogs are only part of the spectacle of The Nutcracker. The 2011 production of this holiday tradition features three weekend performances with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic on December 2 and 3 and the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir in musical accompaniment.
Among the new additions to this year’s production are two dancers who have earned praise for their performances throughout the United States. Joining this year’s cast in the role of the Sugar Plum Cavalier is Justin McMillan who began dancing alongside his mother when he was only eight, studying with Mary Knight at the Mendocino Ballet in Ukiah, California. His study also included summer sessions at San Francisco Ballet, Marin Ballet and the School of American Ballet.
McMillan has danced professionally with San Francisco Ballet, Tulsa Ballet and Richmond Ballet, and while his favorite roles include performances in Romeo and Juliet and John Butler’s Carmina Burana, McMillan has been featured as the Sugar Plum Cavalier in productions of The Nutcracker throughout the country, including Texas, California and Alaska.
In the role of the Snow Cavalier will be Kendall Teague, a North Carolina native who began his training at age 9 with Marilyn Cloutier. He has also studied with Armando Luna at Atlanta Ballet and performed with Carlos Agudelo at Ballet Spartanburg. He continued his studies at the South Carolina Governor’s School of the Arts and joined the San Francisco in 2007. He has performed in Concerto Barocco, Don Quixote, Grande Pas de Deux, La Bayadere, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. During the 2010-11 season, Kendall toured with Complexions Contemporary Ballet.
Fort Wayne Ballet’s renowned costumer Tess Heet has been busy creating new costumes for the Trepak (the Russian candy cane swirls) as well as new headpieces for some of the characters.
“The story is the same, or the intent of the storyline is always the same,” Gibbons-Brown says. “The Nutcracker is a ballet designed for children, with children playing children’s parts. But we do have some new choreography, some new set designs and changes, and the guest dancers always add a different dynamic and helps inspire our own dancers.”
As for Gibbons-Brown, she’ll be watching the shows, taking notes, and during the last performance, adding to her “wish list” for next year. “We’ve got a ‘living angel’ on the Christmas tree this year, and I’m already wondering ‘hmm, now how can we make it fly down from the tree?’” she laughs. “That might be a few years away yet, but you know, a few years ago, I thought about making it ‘snow’ on the audience, and we found a way to make that work. We thought bringing the dogs on stage would be too much trouble, but we found a way to make that work. A few years ago, I said ‘can we make the dragon’s eyes blink?’ and now the dragon’s eyes blink. Now I’m trying to figure out how to make it breath fire.”
All performances are held at Arts United Center, 303 East Main Street in downtown Fort Wayne.
Friday, December 2 @ 8 PM (with Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children's Choir)
Join the Fort Wayne Ballet for the Opening Night Champagne Reception immediately following the performance. Meet the dancers and enjoy food by Club Soda, champagne and music. Tickets: $10/adults; $5/children
Saturday, December 3 @ 2:30 PM (matinee performance with Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children's Choir)*
Saturday December 3 @ 8 PM (with Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children's Choir)
Sunday, December 4 @ 2:30 PM*
Tuesday, December 6 @ 7 PM
Friday, December 9 @ 8 PM
Saturday, December 10 @ 2:30 PM (matinee performance)*
Saturday, December 10 @ 8 PM
Sunday, December 11 @ 2:30 PM*
Tickets: December 2 & 3 w/Philharmonic
Premium seating Rows F - L : Adults $45; Seniors (60+) $40; Youth (11-18) $35; Children (3-10) $30
Rows A – E and M – U: Adults $40; Seniors (60+) $35; Youth (11-18) $30; Children (3-10) $25
All other performances:
Premium seating Rows F - L : Adults $33; Seniors (60+) $28; Youth (11-18) $23; Children (3-10) $18
Adults $28; Seniors (60+) $23; Youth (11-18) $18; Children (3-10) $15
*Sugar Plum Parties follow matinee performances. Parties begin at the conclusion of each matinee in the Ian Rolland Gallery. Enjoy sweets in the Ian Rolland Gallery while you meet Clara and her friends. Get autographs and take pictures with selected members of The Nutcracker cast. Tickets are $8 and may be purchased with your performance tickets (seating is limited).
Tickets will also be available at the Arts United Center box office beginning November 28.
For more ticket information go to fortwayneballet.org or call the Fort Wayne Ballet at (260) 484-9646.
To learn more about the animals that will be up for adoption go to www.FWACC.org or call 260-427-1244.