The Nutcracker celebrates holiday cheer

Amanda Weston

     This December Ballet Austin will be performing their 47th annual production of The Nutcracker. Ballet Austin, the 15th largest classical ballet company in the country, produces the longest running Nutcracker in Texas. The show will play at the Long Center for the Performing Arts for the second year, and put on 12 shows from December 5 to 23.

     William Piner, director of the Ballet Austin schools, says the show is “a big undertaking.” This year’s show features the largest cast in over ten years with over 200 performers of various ages and levels, 160 of which are from Ballet Austin’s over 3,000 students, filling the roles of Christmas children, mice, angels, soldiers, bonbons, and Austin Symphony’s full 40 person orchestra.

     “It’s a lot to manage. There’s so much involved, and with live performances there’s always something new. I love working with the youngest performers, the angels. We have 74, and for some this is their first time on stage. Seeing their faces on stage with the smoke and scenery and other performers is the best part,” Piner said.

     Every year first-time cast members bring something new to their roles, but many of the professional dancers in the cast have done the show for many years and have performed a variety of roles.

     “The challenge, or interesting aspect of performing The Nutcracker, is that since we perform it every year you can really see growth in your ability to handle the choreography. Something that might be a challenge a year before might be easier a second or third time doing the role as you become a stronger dancer and more comfortable with the choreography,” said Christopher Swaim, who dances the role of the Snow King and Russian lead. “It also provides you time to work on your artistic quality and how you want to shape the role. I will be returning to performing Snow King for a second year and I now know the trouble spots to work on and how I want to change my presentation based on critiques and praise from last year. Also, since this production rolls over three weekends, you can even make small changes and improvements as we work our way towards the final curtain.”

Also in the cast is Macrina Butler, a CPHS senior, who is performing as Clara for the second year.

“I already know the choreography so I can focus on perfecting it and helping others. It’s difficult to keep it new and exciting and sincere every time, [and a] lot of free time is given up to keep up with assignments,” Butler said. “Having the little girls look up to me is really incredible and sweet.”      Production of the ballet began in October at the conclusion of Ballet Austin’s last show, and during rehearsals some dancers were also learning choreography for the company’s future productions. According to Piner, the show takes a lot of planning, student managing and getting information right. The cast has been in rehearsal for two months, learning and cleaning choreography originally created by Stephen Mills, who also choreographed Ballet Austin’s The Taming of the Shrew. This year there are four new company members in the cast and local celebrity will be featured as Mother Ginger. These guest stars include KVUE news anchor Terri Gruca, mayor of Austin Lee Leffingwell, Majic 95 DJ Terri McCormick, News 8 Austin Meteorologist Rich Segal, and UT women’s basketball head coach Gail Goestenkors.

The Nutcracker ballet, based on the novel by E.T.A. Hoffman, was written in 1891 by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky and first performed in Russia a year later. The show came to the United States in the 1940s. Ballet Austin first began performing the show in 1962 and it has since become a holiday tradition for many citizens and Cedar Park students.

“I look forward to seeing the show every year,” Courtney Anthony, junior, said. “It’s not Christmas time until I hear the first chime of the Nutcracker music.”

As for The Nutcracker’s future, the directors hope to continue the show for many years to come. But for now the cast looks forward to performing the show for the community and earning a well-deserved break for the holidays.