How Mason Dance does the NutcrackerPublished December 23, 2016 by Eva Tanenbaum in All Things Dance, Dance Costumes, Teachers Tip
The Nutcracker is a major part of the holiday season for any dancer.
Whether your yearly tradition includes going to see it performed by your local ballet company, or being a part of the performance with your own dance studio, we all love this classic ballet.
Is your studio is looking to put on your first Nutcracker this year? Or trying to find ways to improve it? We asked for advice from a seasoned-Nutcracker professional and ‘Wish’ friend, Bobbi Wyatt of Mason Dance Center.
Q. When and where is the show? Are there tickets?
A. Our show is usually the 2nd Sunday in December. This year it was Dec 11. We do 2 shows in one day, 1:00 and 4:00 pm. We are fortunate to have our shows in the beautiful 1200 seat auditorium at our local high school. Tickets this year were $10 and for the first time we did all reserved seating.
Q. Is there a charity component?
For the past 15 years we have given all the ticket proceeds from our Nutcracker to the Mason High School After Prom. The MHS After Prom provides a safe, fun alternative for HS Jrs & Srs on prom night after the dance. They take over the HS and adjacent Community Center and have a themed night of fun and food for the students and their dates. It is pretty spectacular event and keeps the kids off the roads and out of trouble.
Q. Logistically, how does it all come together?
A. Lots and lots of planning and hard work!! Rehearsals start at the beginning of September. Planning starts long before that. As the current show is going on I already have a list of ideas and possible updates for the following year. We start planning in earnest in late July, early August.
Q. Who is involved? From parents to students to faculty?
A. All members of our Performance Groups and PreProfessional Ballet dancers are in the show. We also have parent volunteers and alumnae in the Party Scene. Our Little Angels are Kindergarten through 2nd grade. Choreography and staging is done by our teachers. This year about 8-9 of our 14 teachers had a hand in putting it all together. And show weekend is all hands on deck with the whole staff pitching in.
Q. Are there auditions?
A. The Angels just sign up, no auditions for our little ones. We do auditions for our lead roles only. This year we had 150 in our cast.
Q. What makes your performance unique?
A. Our Nutcracker is “All Jazzed Up!”. We use a variety of music versions from the classic Tchaichovsky to Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and the wacky Busy McCarroll renditions. For next year we may add in something from Tran-Siberian Orchestra and the acapella group Straight No Chaser.
Another thing we do that is pretty cool but not part of the shows is the way we announce casting. Instead of just posting a list of who is doing what like we used to, for the past 3 years each cast member gets a sign planted in their yard with their parts listed. The first year we did it all in one car with one crew and it took 8 hours, all night!! We now enlist staff and parent volunteers as our Stealth Elves to help get all the 100+ signs out. The kids and parents love it. The planning of the sign routes is a production all on its own! We cover over 150 miles to weave around and get to all our students.
Q. Do you get multiple dance styles involved?
A. In addition to a variety of music styles our show includes tap, jazz, Rockette-style kick line and even a touch of hip hop. We still have lots of great traditional ballet but a lot of other fun mixed in as well.
Q. How is your Nutcracker the same or different than a traditional Nutcracker ballet?
A. We tell the whole story of the Nutcracker but a shortened version. The traditional is a great length for a young audience. Our Flowers and Sugar Plum Fairy have always been traditional ballet pieces (at least so far). Several numbers each year are ballet mixed in with our other styles.
Q. What changes every year? What stays the same?
A. I like to change at least a few things each year to keep it fresh for the audience and give our dancers new opportunities. This year we swapped our Harlequin to a solo, rather than the 5 dancer ensemble and switched our usual solo Doll to a trio. We also had new choreography for both those parts as well as new Marzipan and updated Flowers choreography. We also added Angel Shepherds for the first time this year.
Q. Do you have a costume collection? Do you change it every year?
A. Yes! We have a very large collection and it grows a bit each year! Along with updates to staging and choreography, each year I also try to update a few costumes or set pieces. This year we had beautiful new costumes for our Nutcracker and Dolls (thanks to Lisa, Wish designer for those). The Harlequin and Angel Shepard costumes were new too and we got all new feathered wings for our Little Angels. Things up for possible updates next year are our March and Arabian costumes. We have a few costumes that we’ve used for all 15 years, some of them were in service before that when we just did Nutcracker excerpts at retirement homes and the mall.
Q. What are the benefits (to the studio, students, community) for having a Nutcracker?
A. Our students and families LOVE our Nutcracker! In year end surveys of our dancers the Nutcracker is always at or very near the top of their favorite things list for the year, even often winning out over competitions and recital. Doing the Nutcracker gives our dancers the opportunity for the dancers to perform more and to be part of a “real” dance production, beyond just the 2-4 minute pieces in competition and recital. There are opportunities for the dancers to “move up through the ranks” and it encourages them to keep improving on their technique so they can get the prized roles as they get older.
Q. What’s the hardest part of the process? What’s the most rewarding part?
A. Casting can be challenging! We have a lot of talented dances and only so many lead roles. So finding the balance of just the right part or feature for everyone can be tricky. Seeing it all come together on stage is SO rewarding though. From our young first timers to our HS girls dancing their last Nutcracker, the joy on their faces and their pride in their accomplishment is priceless.
We do put on a really great show, if I do say so myself. And I love that we can give back to our community and support the After Prom. We are giving back but also leading by example and teaching our kids to give back as well. Hopefully that is something they will continue to do as they grow up and go out in the world.