“The Nutcracker” is a seasonal tradition for many families and most dancers.
The two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was not an immediate success when it debuted in Russia in 1892. The libretto is adapted from the far-darker E.T.A. Hoffmann story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” and follows the adventures of Clara (sometimes Marie) who is gifted a charming nutcracker by her mysterious uncle Drosselmeyer for Christmas. Clara journeys to the Kingdom of the Sweets with her Nutcracker Prince and is delighted by a host of dancing sweets, savories and flowers.
It wasn’t until George Balanchine designed the ballet as a Christmastime staple of the New York City Ballet that America, as a whole, seemed to fall in love with the ballet and make it a must-perform for all successful ballet companies (and a few modern dance companies, too).
The story is simple and mild, leaving choreographers a wealth of room to include many young dancers (and a few not-so-young) in a festive holiday setting. This season — specifically, this coming weekend — local audiences can enjoy an interpretation of “The Nutcracker” at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck.
The production, directed by Anne Brosche, features about 20 children (the youngest is 5) and six adults. Brosche said she shared choreographing duties with others, including Michele Ribble, Risa Petrone, Jeanette Kravic and Jordan Stroly. Most of the dancers hail from Rhinebeck Dance Studio, where auditions were held this year in August.
“Last year, I choreographed the second act (the suite of food-inspired dances, such as Arabian Coffee and Chinese Tea),” said Brosche. “This is my first year to direct.”
This is the fourth year for “The Nutcracker” at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. Brosche said one challenge was that the dancers have to share the stage as their rehearsal space with the current production of “’Night, Mother.”
“It’s difficult,” said Brosche. “We don’t have the entire stage to block the depth of it,” due to the set of “’Night, Mother” being housed there. Rehearsing on stage does, however, “let the kids envision what an audience will be like,” she added.
Brosche has the experience to deal with these sort of challenges – she has been the ballet mistress at Rhinebeck Dance Center for five years, moving up from New York City, where she studied at the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet.
On the night of this interview, she was busy supervising a dress rehearsal complete with costumes and props. “We’re trying to be authentic,” she mused, “to the 1840s, 1850s when E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote the story. I read the original story – it’s quite dark and sort of violent. The libretto by Alexandre Dumas is much nicer.”
Act 1 is dominated by Jane Carney, who portrays young Clara; her strange uncle Drosselmeyer is played by Devon McComb. In this rendition of “The Nutcracker,” Drosselmeyer’s magic not only brings dolls and nutcrackers to life, it also ages Clara into a young woman, danced by 18-year-old Katelyn Shoemaker. Clara’s prince is 18-year-old Aidan O’Callaghan. Johanna Kravic dances the part of Snow Queen, and Alura Cafasso performs as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“A lot of the dancers are graduating,” said Brosche. Of the audition, she said, “We want the entire Hudson Valley involved. Because of the lack of classically trained dancers, we have to double up on solos (for the dancers cast in the ballet). We give everybody a chance to do something.”
The whole event is a bit of “a family affair,” she added. “The parents have been really helpful,” including mothers who serve as costumers and stage managers who play multiple roles.
Performances are Nov. 23-25: Friday and Saturday performances will be at 8 p.m. and Sunday will be at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call the box office at 845-876-3080.