While it’s evolved into a holiday tradition, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker wasn’t an immediate smash hit.
“When it was first done in St. Petersburg, Russia, it was a flop. It wasn’t received well,” said Ron Jones, whose dancers at Columbia County Ballet have been presenting the Christmas classic since 1997. This year, they will dance into the Land of Sweets at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 6, at Imperial Theatre.
Jones said The Nutcracker didn’t come into the forefront until George Balanchine, the Russian-born ballet dancer who served as the longtime ballet master and artistic director for the New York City Ballet, created his own version of the production.
Since then, countless ballet companies have emulated Balanchine’s choreography, which is still used by the New York City Ballet 30 years after his death.
Jones has danced the Balanchine version, but he likes to put his own spin on it.
“In the Land of the Sweets, each dance stands for a different type of treat,” he said. “Each one has its own flavor which is brought out through the rhythm of the dance and the movement.”
No choreography is sacred for Jones who changes his dance patterns to suit the skills of his dancers. Most of Jones’ dancers at Columbia County Ballet are children with the bulk of his performers in The Nutcracker ranging from age 10 to 18. As dancers grow and graduate from high school, Jones has a new ensemble to work with year after year.
One dance that has seen the most changes in the 17 years of the production is the Russian. Some years, it’s been done as candy canes usually with a male lead; once with a female lead. Sometimes, it’s been more of a Russian Trepak which is traditionally associated with male dancers rather than female. This year, Jones’ lead dancer in the Cossack is a girl surrounded by boys who’ve taken hip-hop classes.
Jones said he was inspired to make the Russian dance into a feature with a female lead because of a donation of a ballroom dance costume with a full red skirt that fit the feel of the music.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, Columbia County Ballet will have its annual Tea and Tutus event at Sacred Heart Cultural Center with refreshments, activities and a visit from some of the dancers.
To learn more, call (706) 860-1852. Nutcracker tickets are available at imperialtheatre.com.