RVA Ballet’s Nutcracker Returns as a Seasonal Classic
Photo credit Sarah Ferguson
Christmas and traditions go hand in hand. For better or worse, you can usually predict exactly how your festive season is going to pan out, right down to the delicious nap you will take after feasting yourself to death. A Christmas tradition close to many Richmonders hearts is Richmond Ballet’s The Nutcracker. For nearly three decades, The Nutcracker has been delighting locals and getting them in the festive spirit. In fact, it is not only locals who are impressed by Richmond Ballet’s performance. The New York Times has called it “one of the country’s most perfect [Nutcracker productions]”
Determined to understand what all the hoopla is about, I caught up with Malcolm Burn, Artistic Associate and Ballet Master of the Richmond Ballet. After we briefly chatted about our mutual antipodean status (Malcolm is from New Zealand, I am from Australia), I grilled Malcolm on all things Nutcracker.
If you were to describe to an out-of-towner the Nutcracker tradition and what it means to the Richmond community, what would you say?
Where we come from, and England and Europe, the Nutcracker wasn’t normally a Christmas tradition. Basically it could be done anytime. In fact in New Zealand we would probably do it in June, because it is colder. In these places it wasn’t considered a Christmas tradition. But now, in America it has been a Christmas tradition for years. Being as American tourists go all over the world, it has started to be a Christmas tradition all over the world too. So, because they have American tourists in town, foreign cities will put on the ballet for them. Here, people make The Nutcracker a part of their Christmas tradition, which is lovely.
For somebody who has never seen it, I can only say I envy his or her delight in seeing it for the first time!
I am so excited to go see it for the first time next month!
We had [Alastair] Macauley [the dance critic] from The New York Times, I think it was last year [ it was 2010, but close enough!], in 30 days he went and saw 30 different productions of The Nutcracker all over the country. And, we were one of the three best. He said, “Every city should have a Nutcracker like this one”.
I think the reason for that is, it appeals to everybody. It is a family–oriented show so you can bring anybody from three to 93 and it will appeal to the child in us all. Our director who choreographed it [Stoner Winslett] has really thought it through and made it make so much sense and have so much magic in it. It’s like a Christmas gift put together well and tied up in a Christmas bow [laughs].
Is there anything new about it this year, which makes it different, or is more of a case of, ‘you have a winning formula so why change it’?
This is the tenth year we have been doing this new version. The previous version went for 20 years. The new version was a reconceptualization at that time by Stoner. She really looked back and looked through it and looked at where she’d like it to go. Essentially, it will be the same. What makes it different every year and what a lot of people really love about it; obviously there are different personnel. There are a lot of the same personnel because our people stay a long time. You’ll go in and go, ‘Oh! That one yes” and “Oh, I saw that one do that part last year and now they’re doing this part”. So it is kind of an interesting thing for people who know the dancers.
How many dancers are in each performance?
There are over a hundred performers on stage. Not all at stage on once obviously! This includes the children from the School of Richmond Ballet, with 72 children in each cast.
What personally, are you looking forward to this most about this year’s performance?
Well every year, I talk about recreation. When you create a ballet the first time it is kind of interesting, because it is the first time, everything feels magic: ‘the excitement of the first time’. And then you go on and you get some years down the line. I have this thing about ballet and classical dance in general – every time you go onstage you recreate. It is not re-do; you make it new again. It is not just re-do the old. That’s the beauty of live performance. In this way performances are always evolving, yet they remain the same, if you know what I mean.
What would your advice be for the audience, particularly if someone is seeing The Nutcracker for the first time?
Just come, sit down and be a part of it. I think the audience is a part of it. People often ask me why do you come to the theater when you‘ve got a 70-inch television in your lounge room. But you know, there is something specifically about going to a place where there is a whole lot of like-minded individuals to share in a performance. So if they feel like cheering, they should cheer! If they feel like clapping along with the music, they should clap along. Don’t be afraid to be a part of it!
I like audiences to come and be that much a part of it, if they feel so moved, they do whatever. Sure, running up on stage may be frowned upon..(laughs) but in general, be a part of the performance. And when the dancers feel that magic from the audience, it only inspires the dancer to go to greater heights.
There you have it – avoid the Christmas cynicism and book yourself a ticket to The Nutcracker, dare you risk a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past. Special mention must be made to the Richmond Symphony, who will be in the pit for each of The Nutcracker performances. Their talents are sure to enhance the experience for audience members.
To purchase tickets, call 1.800.514.3849, visit eTix.com, or stop by the Ballet’s Box Office at 407 East Canal Street, Richmond VA, 23219, Monday through Friday 11am – 6pm.
Performances will be held at The Carpenter Theater from December 14th to the 23rd. Please visit http://www.richmondballet.com/event/nutcracker for more details.
As far and as deep as Le Sacre du Printemps goes, the company’s visual elements were stellar.April 14, 2016
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