Springfield Ballet's production of Tchaikovsky's ballet classic The Nutcracker has been a local holiday tradition for more than 30 years. I talked with the company's Artistic and School Director, Ashley Paige Romines, about this year's version.
She first gave me a detailed plot synopsis. "The Nutcracker is set in the 1800s. It is the Stahlbaum family, it's a party on Christmas Eve. Clara (the Stahlbaums' daughter) is the star of the show, really. It's her family's Christmas Eve celebration, she has all her friends there, and her mysterious 'Uncle Drosselmeyer'--that's what we call him in our production, but he's the godfather of Clara--gets her a gift of a nutcracker doll. She's thrilled to get that... but her brother Fritz, who torments her quite a bit, ends up breaking her nutcracker. Drosselmeyer magically fixes it. The party ends, and Clara wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to go search for her nutcracker. She finds it, and falls asleep on the couch.
"The clock strikes midnight, and Clara wakes up to find all these mice hovering around her--and they chase her and attack her and scare her. Drosselmeyer comes in and helps save her--and grows her whole living room into a magical scene: the (Christmas) tree grows huge, and her nutcracker doll grows into a life-size soldier, the Nutcracker Prince. Then there's a battle between the Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King. We think the Mouse King's going to win because he seems to have the upper hand, but then Clara saves the day by throwing her slipper at the Mouse King and winning the battle. So the soldiers win. Nutcracker gets transformed fully into the Prince, and they go through the enchanted forest of snow with the Snow Queen and the snowflakes.
"Then they enter into the Land of Sweets, greeted by the angels, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her Cavalier. The Land of Sweets performs for Clara and Nutcracker Prince: you have Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinese tea, Russian Trepak, Marzipan, bakers and gingerbread cookies, Dewdrop Fairy, and Waltz of the Flowers. And then you see the Grand Pas de Deux of Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, into a final Grand Coda of the entire cast. At the end we see Clara back in her living room, asleep on the couch, everything's down to (regular) size. So we wonder: did she actually live this, or was this a dream the whole time?"
All that and some of Tchaikovsky's greatest music: how can you go wrong?
As usual there are two principal guest artist dancers brought in for this year's production, says Romines. "Our Sugar Plum Fairy is Maria Hall. She's actually an alum of Springfield Ballet--she danced here for many years. She and her partner (the Cavalier), Cameron Miller, both come from University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Dance. They are both seniors in the program this year, so we are thrilled to have them on our stage." Springfield Ballet has always felt it important to bring in experienced guest artists to work alongside the Ballet School students who make up the majority of the casts of their productions. "We feel it's a great opportunity for our dancers to share the stage with professionals, and have that wide range of 5-year-olds on up, on the stage with professionals. And the professionals are such good role models to be able to tell their story and talk to them about what they need to do to help launch them into a career in ballet, should they choose to do that."
Counting the two guest artists, there will be 104 people in the cast of Nutcracker this year. The age range, as Ashley Paige Romines says, is literally five years old on up to adults, who show up particularly in the Act I party scenes. As Drosselmeyer isn't a dancing role, Springfield Ballet often brings in a local personality for the part. For the second year in a role Drosselmeyer is played by Chalmer Harper, manager of local radio station "The Wind" (KWND 88.3 FM). "We're excited to have him back on stage with us."
I asked Romines if there are any surprises in this year's production. "We do have a new set piece that we're excited about--the clock got a nice facelift. And we hired an Associate Artistic Director--Brian Norris is joining us this year. So we've adapted some of the choreography, made some changes. Some of the scenes are going to be more fresh for the audience's eyes." The set is actually only a year old--it was introduced in 2016. As for the choreography, Romines says they make "little adaptations every year," but the basic production and choreographic scheme for this Nutcracker is now about a decade old.
One thing hasn't changed about Springfield Ballet's Nutcracker: it sells well--and fast. There are six performances this year at the Landers Theatre, 311 E. Walnut: Friday and Saturday December 15 and 16 both at 7:30pm; Sunday the 17th at 6:00pm; Monday the 18th at 7:00pm; and two afternoon matinees on Saturday and Sunday both at 2:00pm. Tickets range from $20 to $30 and are available from the Landers box office, 869-1334 or online at http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org. But when I talked to the Ballet's Ashley Paige Romines a few days ago, she said they were already "close to selling out, so get those tickets quickly!"