Ballet novices will have little difficulty understanding Tina Cassidy’s choreographic inspiration for the Northern Ballet Theatre’s 25th Anniversary production of The Nutcracker.
Fifteen-year-old Emma Wood, who plays the Columbine Doll, says Cassidy’s choreography might even make more sense than the traditional setup. (Though it can also be argued that at points, the traditional choreography just doesn’t make sense. Mice royalty? The Land of Sweets? And who is this Nutcracker dude, anyway?)
Cassidy’s choreography settles the answers to at least two Nutcracker-related questions. In this show, audiences learn how the Nutcracker Prince was turned into a Nutcracker, and then, they get a better feel for why Clara falls so hard for him. (Spoiler alert: She’s met him before.)
“Because people really like the classic, traditional Nutcracker, we tried to keep the same sort of plot. We just put some enhancements in it,” Cassidy said in a phone interview. “We made it more of a coming-of-age story for Clara.”
If you’re not familiar with the traditional production, it goes something like this: It’s Christmas Eve and a family is visited by a man named Drosselmeyer, a toymaker and magician, who brings to the party a collection of toys and, for his goddaughter Clara, a Nutcracker, which she takes an immediate liking to. After everybody’s gone to bed, the clock strikes midnight and Clara returns to the parlor to check on her Nutcracker, only to find that somehow, he’s grown to life-size and that he’s in battle with a Mouse King. The two are surrounded by armies of mice and gingerbread men.
Clara distracts the Mouse King (by throwing her shoe at him), enabling the Nutcracker to stab him. Then, the Nutcracker transforms into a prince and leads Clara to the Land of Sweets, where she’s met with performances and gifts from the people there, who are grateful for her role in saving the Nutcracker Prince.
In most productions, the Nutcracker Prince doesn’t appear until after the mouse fight. But in this one, we see him before the battle, in the form of Dosselmeyer’s nephew, whom he brings to the party and introduces to Clara early Christmas Eve. They dance together, but then, later that night, the nephew is bewitched into becoming the nutcracker by an evil Mouse Queen. When he’s transformed back to human, he and Clara fall in love.
“The nephew turns out to be the Nutcracker Prince. This is not done in a lot of versions,” Cassidy said. “I’ve been in countless Nutcrackers myself — I was a professional dancer, and I’ve seen so many different versions, and I thought that this would be an interesting twist, to have him appear beforehand.”
It should be noted that though the choreography new, it’s not that new.
“There were a couple of years when we tried to modernize The Nutcracker and set it to modern music, but there was this big outcry. People want to see The Nutcracker in its entirety, in the way it’s supposed to be. I think part of it has to do with the music of Tchaikovsky, which is so haunting and so beautiful,” Cassidy said.
Emma Wood has been dancing in the Northern Ballet Theatre’s version of The Nutcracker for more than 10 years now, but she really likes what they’ve come up with for 2013. She thinks it makes more sense.
“I really like the new choreography. It’s telling some of the story that was left out before. It’s putting a new light to the show,” Wood said.
Her mother, Kelly Wood, likes it too. But then, she’s a bit biased toward Northern Ballet Theatre’s rendition of The Nutcracker. Kelly Wood performed with the ballet theater during its first full Nutcracker production 25 years ago, and also in the production 26 years ago, when the company produced Act II of the show. This was before her daughter was born and back when the company was called Granite State Ballet. She performs again this year in the party scene.
Kelly Wood didn’t intend on continuing with The Nutcracker when Emma was born, but she was “coerced” into starting up again when Emma began lessons at age 3. These days, it seems to be more difficult dissuading her from dancing in The Nutcracker.
“Everything about The Nutcracker is exciting. … It’s become a tradition now. I’ve said in the past that I don’t want to do it again, I want to have a year where I can go to my friend’s Christmas party, but every year, I remember again the excitement and get drawn into doing it,” Wood said.
Plus, she gets to dance with Emma, who admitted that it is cool not only that her mom is onstage with her, but that she understands the stress of dancing in such a big production.
The show features two guest artists, Cecile Girard, who hails from New York City and plays the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her partner, Ibrahim Perez, who plays the Cavalier and is from Lyon, France. Playing one of the youngest Claras to date is 12-year-old Emma Chew.
“This isn’t just a dance recital. This is a professional show with professional costumes, professional lighting, and the quality of dance is something that has been compared to Boston. … Most of the students are pre-professional level,” Kelly Wood said. “Even our youngest dancers have to go through the audition process.”
As seen in the December 19th, 2013 issue of The Hippo