The holidays are right around the corner, and there’s no better way to get in the Christmas spirit than watching the classic tale of The Nutcracker.
Several local dance companies are presenting the renowned ballet featuring Tchaikovsky’s classic score, while Cutno Dance Center has put a contemporary spin on this holiday tradition.
In Holiday Cheer: Nutcracker in the City, Cutno Dance Center’s adaptation has a modern, urban setting and features music mainly from Duke Ellington’s Three Suites, a swing and jazz version of The Nutcracker. Ellington’s version has gained popularity in the last 10 to 15 years, said owner Ferneasa Cutno.
The production also contains songs from the original Nutcracker, in addition to modern music from Justin Bieber, Donny Hathaway and the Jackson 5’s Give Love on Christmas Day. The show will open with Wynton Marsalis’ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Set in the South, Holiday Cheer: Nutcracker in the City opens with the family party. However, instead of having a traditional Christmas and exchanging gifts, the hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Brown, pass a decorative purple bag and ask the adults to donate to their best friends, the Taylors, who had a devastating house fire during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Before the Christmas party, Mr. and Mrs. Brown explained the importance of gratitude and helping mankind to their children, CoCo and Francois. After the gathering, Coco takes her best friend on a glorious adventure where they visit many magical lands, gather numerous gifts and encounter interesting characters.
Along the way, CoCo and her best friend learn the true meaning of Christmas.
“At the Christmas party, we show our kids it’s not all about them and toys. It’s about reaching out beyond your family and helping someone in need,” Cutno said. “There’s a slumber party, and at the slumber party, they fall asleep and that’s how they get into this dream land. At the end, my daughter (CoCo) gives her friend all of the gifts.”
Last year, Mr. Nutcracker came alone to the party, but this year there’s a Mrs. Nutcracker – he married the maid, Cutno said. Another difference from the original version is that Cutno’s dancers go on a Journey Through the Southern Snow.
Holiday Cheer: Nutcracker in the City has a cast of about 50 and adults.
“It’s an event for the whole family, with the youngest child being 3,” Cutno said. “We’ve been doing it off and on for the last seven or eight years. We really wanted to make it an option for families and to start a tradition in Augusta that’s more multicultural.”
The production will be performed Dec. 15 at Augusta Preparatory Day School Hull Fine Arts Center.
OTHER LOCAL dance companies are presenting the classic holiday tale and music of The Nutcracker. The ballet is the story of Clara, a young girl who dreams of toy soldiers battling giant mice and a nutcracker doll who comes to life to save her. Upon the victory, the Nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince and takes Clara on a journey through a land of snow and into the Kingdom of Sweets, where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The production has become a holiday tradition for the studios.
“It’s a great way to kick off the holidays. It’s a great way to not only get the kids involved and see what dance and theater are about, but to end Thanksgiving and start the Christmas holidays,” said Amanda Williams, an office assistant at Dance Augusta.
Dance Augusta’s three performances of The Nutcracker will be Nov. 23-24 at Imperial Theatre and will include performers ages 7 to 18, Williams said.
DANCE STUDENTS from Aiken will perform in Aiken Civic Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, said Diane Miller, the artistic director of the ballet. Other participating studios include Burns Dance Studio, Dream Dance Academy, Carolina Dance Studio and Tip Toes & Taps.
“It is a citywide Nutcracker, and we do citywide auditions,” Miller said.
The three performances Dec. 7-9 at the Etherredge Center at the University of South Carolina Aiken will also feature a professional guest dancer from New York, Christian Koenig, who will play the role of the cavalier. Aiken Civic Ballet features a male guest dancer in this role each year, she said.
“We just don’t have a lot of boys. We have a prince and mouse king. But it’s hard to find men at that level,” Miller said.
This year, the production has a new “growing tree,” which is three times the size of the tree from previous shows.
“It’s part of Clara’s nightmare that she has during the battle scene,” Miller said.
COLUMBIA COUNTY Ballet’s Nutcracker production is set for Nov. 30 at Imperial Theatre and features dancers from ages 7 to adult, said owner Ron Jones.
This year, Clara and the Prince are Amanda Millar and Gabriel Hughes, who played Tinker Bell and Peter Pan in Columbia County Ballet’s recent performance of Peter Pan, he said.
The Sugar Plum Fairy, Rebecca Moffatt, is an accomplished ballerina in the company who is returning to the role, and her cavalier, Jeremy Brackett, is a graduate from John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School who has worked his way up through the ranks.
His mother recently told Jones that he has wanted to play the cavalier since the first time he saw The Nutcracker, Jones said.
“The biggest difference for me, as an artistic director, is that we have boys in ours,” Jones said. “We have always been blessed with boys, and there’s nothing like boy energy on stage when we do our party scene, soldiers, mice or partnering in the Kingdom of the Sweets … it’s a duet, so there’s a romance that cannot happen if you’re putting a girl in a boy’s part.”
Jones said he recently gained five new male students from Davidson who wanted to add to their dance experience.
“I’ve started a new boys’ class – a class for boys only – that addresses the technique of the male dancer. Because they do a lot of jumps and they love tricks. It’s just a different energy. They’re actually going to be going in as our giant mice that come in and terrorize the soldiers. We’re excited about that because we’ve got this new energy in our Nutcracker this year,” Jones said.