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Bringing The Nutcracker to the Community

Male and female dancer performing the Sugar Plum pas de deux from The Nutcracker

By Dallas Guill

Although Texas Ballet Theater (TBT) will not be presenting The Nutcracker on stage this season, patrons have two unique opportunities to enjoy the holiday classic. TBT is currently offering a pre-recorded video of The Nutcracker for patrons to purchase, allowing them to view the production throughout multiple weekends in December. It is paired with TBT’s annual parody, The Nutty Nutcracker, which serves as a hilarious spoof on the Nutcracker story. Additionally, TBT has partnered with organizations in the Dallas Arts District to the bring The Nutcracker outdoors, presenting select scenes in outdoor environments. The performances began Saturday, December 5 and run through Sunday, December 20.

Since TBT’s typical season does not include outdoor performances, Production Director Tom Boyd and the rest of TBT’s artistic team have faced some unique challenges in assembling these productions, as they deviated from regular performances at TBT’s resident venues.

“Not having available the specific environment, conditions, and ability to interact, has required a whole new creative approach to developing a program,” Boyd said. “Additionally, maintaining the required level of fitness and technique has been challenging for dancers with limited access to the studios, as well as organizing how to rehearse a new program, with masking and distancing protocols in place.”

Boyd refers to TBT’s current social distancing guidelines, where dancers are working and rehearsing in small groups (pods) and interacting with the artistic team via “Zoom rooms” at the studio, in an effort to minimize the risk for both parties.

TBT’s production team also had to consider how the logistics of the performance would be impacted, as it’s being presented in a non-traditional environment for the organization.

“The staging of how the dance numbers begin and finish had to be completely re-imagined. Without the benefit of proscenium and offstage areas, entrances and exits are seen by the audience, so they need to be considered part of the show.”

Boyd also shared some of the challenges that accompanied these performances. “The primary challenges for the Artistic Staff have been to create a program that is versatile in its accommodation of variable weather and stage floor conditions, while preserving the essence of story-telling through ballet, mime, music, and narration.”

External factors also have a way of impacting even the best made plans. “The weather is always a risk with outdoor events,” Boyd says. “You just never know when temperature and/or precipitation might scuttle the show. So all of these factors had to be considered in creating a program. The choice of movement, spacing, costumes, floor surface, and time of day were all considered in putting the program together.”

With the performances possessing more of a ‘pop-up’ feel to their presentation and structure, they also demanded a more minimal approach to storytelling. Boyd shared that costumes are being used to help define the characters as much as possible; however, scenic elements are limited to a few hand props like the nutcracker doll, and swords for the Rat King and mice characters.

And while there were certainly challenges to overcome and adjustments to make, TBT’s team was happy to oblige, as it meant that a live iteration of the holiday tradition would still exist, even if in a new capacity. “Without being able to perform the traditional run of The Nutcracker this year,” Boyd said, “these outdoor performances have provided a welcome opportunity to perform for TBT patrons and is much appreciated by the dancers and all at TBT.”

The performances also include Texas Ballet Theater School students, who normally participate in productions of The Nutcracker each season at Winspear Opera House and Bass Performance Hall. And even then, staff are being very cautious with the logistics on their end.

“Groups and grade levels were selected by our instructors and costumes were used that were either previously owned by the student or a costume was assigned by the measurements that the students submitted,” TBTS Administrative Manager Yvonne Leffel explained. “Any costumes that were assigned to students were then washed and cared for by our wardrobe department.”

And while students were certainly hoping to have an opportunity to dance in a production of The Nutcracker, the school staff have creatively crafted new possibilities for students to showcase their talents this season. “We are all disappointed to not be able to participate in The Nutcracker this year,” Leffel said, “but we have found new opportunities, such as filming our very own Holiday Showcase and participating in these community events in the Dallas Arts District.”

There is still time to catch Texas Ballet Theater in the Arts District this month! Texas Ballet Theater’s final weekend of community performances is coming up this weekend, December 19 and 20 at 6:00 pm at Klyde Warren Park. Click here for a full schedule of events. In addition, CBS 11 will broadcast the annual event on Sunday, December 20, at 7:00 am and again on KXTA Channel 21 at 4 pm for those at home to enjoy.


Header photo: Nicole Von Enck and Joamanuel Velazquez perform the Sugar Plum pas de deux from an indoor stage at Winspear Opera House while patrons watch from outside.

Article photos: Texas Ballet Theater dancers present the Nutcracker story at Klyde Warren Park.