Arts

Local Ballet Companies Prepare For Busy ‘Nutcracker’ Season

Gwinnett Ballet Theatre performs with a 33-piece professional orchestra conducted by Predrag Gosta on the final two weekends of its run.
Gwinnett Ballet Theatre performs with a 33-piece professional orchestra conducted by Predrag Gosta on the final two weekends of its run.
Credit RICHARD CALMES
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The Sugarplum Fairy doesn’t have to be just a vision dancing in your head this holiday season; you can see her dance live in a local production of “The Nutcracker.”

There are more than 50 shows of the ballet scheduled across metro Atlanta in December, and each company puts a unique spin on the classic tale. From new elements and live music to location and availability, there are several options to consider when choosing a production to see.

Atlanta Ballet offers the most opportunities to see “The Nutcracker” with 19 shows between Dec. 11 and Dec. 27.

This year marks the anniversary of Atlanta Ballet performing its Nutcracker at The Fox Theatre and also company dancer Tara Lee’s 20th year dancing in the production.

“It’s interesting to come back to something every year and still be challenged by it but also still be familiar enough with it to enjoy it, to really go deeper into it, to try to reinvent it every season,” Lee said.

According to Lee, Atlanta Ballet’s show is unique because it has something for everyone to enjoy.

“There’s classical dancing and there is also a contemporary edge to it. There’s comedy, magic and something for children,” Lee said. “There is a compelling story for grown-ups as well.”

The original story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” was written by E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816. The book tells the story of Marie Stahlbaum and her beloved Nutcracker doll fighting the aggressive seven-headed king of the mice somewhere between Marie’s imagination and reality.

Hoffman’s tale is complex and geared toward adults, and Marius Petipa chose to adapt Alexandre Dumas’ more child-friendly version into a ballet in 1892. Petipa commissioned Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to create the ballet’s musical score, which is played by a live orchestra in productions by Atlanta Ballet and Gwinnett Ballet Theatre.

“When you have live music it adds to that special energy,” Lee said. “Because we’re all human beings it makes every show a little bit different.”

Atlanta Ballet performs alongside the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra conducted by Gary Sheldon with singing in the snow scene by the Georgia Youth Choir.

Gwinnett Ballet Theatre performs with a 33-piece professional orchestra conducted by Predrag Gosta on the final two weekends of its run. Marketing Director Holley Calmes said the production has lots of new costumes and refurbished sets, and it is performed by students of the school with a professional male dancer stepping in the lead role of Cavalier.

While Gwinnett Ballet Theatre’s production serves the Northeast corridor of Atlanta, those wanting to attend a show outside the Perimeter can choose from Atlanta Festival Ballet’s show in Henry County or The Georgia Ballet’s show in Cobb County.

The Georgia Ballet’s Executive Director Joy Johnson said the 55-year-old professional company’s production of “The Nutcracker” has a new twist this year with choreography added by new Artistic Director Daet Rodriguez.

The Georgia Ballet is one of many local dance companies performing a version of “The Nutcracker” this holiday season. CREDIT SCOTT NILSSON

The company offers five shows and adds guest lead dancers Arionel Vargas, a former principal dancer at the English National Ballet, and Marize Fumero, also formerly of the English National Ballet and currently with Milwaukee Ballet, to perform the principal roles in The Georgia Ballet’s last three shows, Johnson said.

For a performance in the city depicting local Atlanta landmarks, there’s Ballethnic Dance Company’s “Urban Nutcracker Wonderland Act II.”

“Urban Nutcracker is unique in that it happens in Atlanta on Sweet Auburn Avenue in the 1940s,” said Nena Gilreath, co-founding director of Ballethnic Dance Company. Original characters in the production include the Reggae Ragdolls, a Coca-Cola Pas de Six and the lead dancers Brown Sugar and her Chocolatier.

Ballethnic performed a full-length ballet before Thanksgiving in Austell’s Riverside EpiCenter and brings three shorter performances of Act II to Decatur in December. Both locations are new venues for the company and prompted changes to the setup of the show.

“Because the space is so different from where we traditionally have been it forces us to realize our vision of enhancing and constructing the Sweet Auburn Avenue street scene that we envisioned many years ago,” Gilreath said.

New sets, as well as new costumes, are a draw for Callanwolde Dance Ensemble’sproduction, which includes four shows of excerpts from “The Nutcracker” instead of a full length ballet, said Kelly Oakes Dent, artistic director of Callanwolde Dance Ensemble.

“The show is geared for younger audiences because it is slightly shorter than most productions but still has a very high quality of professionalism and entertainment value,” Dent said.

As each company makes final preparations before the curtain goes up for “The Nutcracker,” Lee said audience members can take advantage of the show as a way to slow down and appreciate the season.

Metro Atlanta Performances of “The Nutcracker”