Washington Ballet Presents The Nutcracker
Story by Alexandria Lindstrom | Photography Courtesy of The Washington Ballet
There’s something incredibly beautiful about ballet that commands attention, something unique and romantic that no over-engineered, technically enhanced screen production can replicate or replace. When computer-generated entertainment seems to take over our senses at every turn, it’s inspiring to know that the art of ballet is as captivating as ever.
The captivation begins early, enchanting the hearts of little girls and boys with equal influence, as their natural affinity to connect with music through dance often starts before they’re able to form words. And as their connection grows, so too does their love of watching classics unfold on stage as graceful, gifted dancers tell mesmerizing tales without uttering a single word.
“The excitement of knowing that we are a part of putting together a holiday tradition for so many Washingtonians is the best part of being involved with such an iconic production. For many, it’s not Christmas until they see our performance of The Nutcracker.”
Kyle Grant, Production Manager
For companies like The Washington Ballet (TWB), those productions are indeed a magical thing to watch; and as it dances into its 58th year of presenting The Nutcracker, TWB is looking forward to offering truly memorable performances by renowned dancers from all over the world as well local talents – in addition to a few somewhat unexpected guests – to their holiday party.
Those unexpected guests are actually part of what makes TWB’s production of The Nutcracker so unique and fun, as the ballet company has taken the iconic classic and almost turned it on its ear by D.C.-ifying it to make it more relevant to the local area and American culture, from the colonial era to modern times. But it didn’t start off that way. In fact, when it premiered in December 1961 at Constitution Hall under the direction of co-founder Mary Day and the choreography of legendary ballerina Alexandra Danilova, The Nutcracker was a strict performance of the classic score. But when Septime Webre stepped into the role of artistic director, TWB threw caution to the wind and performed a new version in 2003 that was D.C.-themed, set in 1882 Georgetown. The new version of the production incorporates important historical figures such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Harriet Tubman, Betsy Ross, and John Paul Jones.
Now produced by artistic director Julie Kent and her husband, Victor Barbee, who acts as associate artistic director, today’s performance features more than 100 dancers, including The Washington Ballet’s Company, Studio Company, and Professional Trainees as well as nearly 500 students from The Washington School of Ballet. And popping in during Act 1 of the opening party scene to make cameos as The Ambassador and The Merry Widow are specially-invited local TV, sports, and political figures. “We also have a guest appearance by the racing presidents, the mascots for The World Series Champion Washington Nationals,” said TWB’s public relations manager Barbara Berti. “Audiences go wild when they come on and dance to the timeless Tchaikovsky score that everyone recognizes.”
That’s not all audiences go wild for, however, as TWB’s innovative and modern approach to the classic are rife with reasons to fall in love with the tale all over again. “There are so many things that make our production special,” said Berti. “Our professional company is made up of dancers from all over the country and all over the world, so it very much reflects the diversity of the capital city. The visuals are also truly stunning, from the costumes and sets to the special effects, which include a magical Christmas tree that grows 30 feet, spectacular pyrotechnics, and even a hot air balloon that takes Clara up and away into the cherry blossoms at the end of the ballet. It’s all incredibly captivating to young audiences who delight in seeing all this happen before their eyes. There’s nothing more magical than the holiday season, and this production delivers a lasting memory that audiences treasure with their family and friends year after year.”
There's nothing more magical than the holiday season, and this production delivers a lasting memory that audiences treasure with their family and friends year after year.
It’s also something that the production team and the dancers treasure being a part of year after year, as well. “I love revisiting the production and working on it each year,” said assistant production manager Karen Storms, who has been a part of TWB’s performance of “The Nutcracker for 14 years. She has actually never seen another version of the ballet. “There’s always something new that I see or learn, and I love making something just a little bit better. It has a lot more props and scene changes than many of the other ballet productions I’ve done, which I feel is another thing that makes it unique. Also, having the opportunity to watch the kids grow up through the years and hone their skills as they come through the school is really wonderful.”
“The excitement of knowing that we are a part of putting together a holiday tradition for so many Washingtonians is the best part of being involved with such an iconic production,” added Kyle Grant, production manager for TWB. “For many, it’s not Christmas until they see our performance of The Nutcracker, and we get to do our part to make the show a reality. That’s a great thrill for me, and I get such a feeling of accomplishment and great joy from that!”
I think one of the most wonderful things about our production of The Nutcracker is that it teaches an appreciation of the arts to children at a young age...
Stephanie Sorota, Dancer
The dancers share in the feeling as well, knowing they are part of something that means so much to so many, no matter their ages. “It’s nice to participate in something that is a staple of the holiday season and brings in so many families,” said dancer Adelaide Clauss. “I love dancing to the iconic music, and it gives me a great sense of accomplishment when we finish the run at the end of the holiday season.”
Fellow dancer Alex Kramer agreed. “I always feel such a sense of nostalgia since The Nutcracker has been performed for many generations, and I grew up with the show. In our case, this is such a unique D.C. production, which makes it all the more special, and no other production I’ve been in has the number of children we do, which also brings me great joy.”
“I think one of the most wonderful things about our production of The Nutcracker is that it teaches an appreciation of the arts to children at a young age, as this is often their first time at a performance,” said dancer Stephanie Sorota. “I get especially excited because we get to dance so much during the ballet, and I love to dance – not to mention the fact that it’s D.C.-themed, but it also has dolphins! It’s fantastic!”
The Washington Ballet will present performances at The Warner Theatre until December 29 as well as two matinee performances for D.C. public school children as part of their community engagement program. “The Washington Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker has become something of a holiday tradition for thousands of families over the past 16 years, and it is the signature production in the nation’s capital,” said Berti.
Whether you love watching Clara’s dream unfold before your very eyes or can’t help getting swept up in swell of the music, “The Nutcracker is the perfect way to welcome the holidays, and The Washington Ballet takes the magic of it all to a whole new level.
For more information on show times and ticket pricing, visit www.washingtonballet.org.