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Nutcracker Season: A Tradition and a Twist

Nutcracker Season: A Tradition and a Twist

As the weather gets colder and snow is in the air, the dance world turns to sugar plum fairies, waltzing flowers, battles with mice, and a little girl’s dream.  Yes, it is Nutcracker season! Throughout New Jersey, from Cape May to Hackettstown, audiences can enjoy a variety of “The Nutcracker” performances eagerly presented by dance studios, pre-professional companies and professional companies with dancers of all ages. Two special performances this season – one with a tradition and one with a twist – are offered by professional companies this year.

A Tradition:

American Repertory Ballet celebrates 50 consecutive years of its “Nutcracker” production! This is the longest-running production in New Jersey – and one of the longest-running in the United States, next to a very few including New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. The American Repertory Ballet – or ARB – production brings the magic, beauty, and fantasy of the ballet to the stage with Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, stunning sets, and thrilling choreography.

The current production is directed by ARB’s Artistic Director Douglas Martin, but features the original Party and Dream Battle scenes from the original production choreographed by Audrée Estey. In 1964, Estey, the company’s founder and original artistic director, collaborated with the McCarter Theater in Princeton to make “The Nutcracker” an annual holiday event. The original production was presented until 1980 when new artistic leaders, including Dermot Burke, Septime Webre, and Graham Lustig, began putting their own touches on the production.

American Repertory Ballet, Credit: George Jones

American Repertory Ballet, Credit: George Jones

Since 2010,  Martin has returned parts of the first act to its original roots, but he and Resident Choreographer Mary Barton have choreographed the second act, the Kingdom of the Sweets. Each year, the production has some new creative touches to keep it fresh for audiences. New to the production this year is a magical growing Christmas tree designed by Carl Sprague.

Since 2010,  Martin has returned parts of the first act to its original roots, but he and Resident Choreographer Mary Barton have choreographed the second act, the Kingdom of the Sweets. Each year, the production has some new creative touches to keep it fresh for audiences. New to the production this year is a magical growing Christmas tree designed by Carl Sprague.

Since 2010,  Martin has returned parts of the first act to its original roots, but he and Resident Choreographer Mary Barton have choreographed the second act, the Kingdom of the Sweets. Each year, the production has some new creative touches to keep it fresh for audiences. New to the production this year is a magical growing Christmas tree designed by Carl Sprague.

Since 2010,  Martin has returned parts of the first act to its original roots, but he and Resident Choreographer Mary Barton have choreographed the second act, the Kingdom of the Sweets. Each year, the production has some new creative touches to keep it fresh for audiences. New to the production this year is a magical growing Christmas tree designed by Carl Sprague.

Since 2010,  Martin has returned parts of the first act to its original roots, but he and Resident Choreographer Mary Barton have choreographed the second act, the Kingdom of the Sweets. Each year, the production has some new creative touches to keep it fresh for audiences. New to the production this year is a magical growing Christmas tree designed by Carl Sprague.

With a cast of more than 100 dancers, ARB’s “The Nutcracker” is also a special opportunity for select students from Princeton Ballet School – the official school of ARB – to join the professional company on stage. Princeton Ballet School has gained a national reputation for its excellent dance training since its founding in 1954 by Estey.  Dancers of all ages grace the stage to present this beautiful ballet.

For those not familiar with the story of “The Nutcracker,” Act I begins with a Christmas party at young Clara and Fritz’s home. As the guests arrive, the audience is introduced to a cast of characters including the mysterious Uncle Drosslemeyer and his nephew. Drosselmeyer demonstrates wonderful mechanical dolls, and then presents Clara, his favorite niece, with a beautifully carved Nutcracker. Fritz becomes jealous and grabs the gift from Clara and in his flight, he drops and breaks it. Drosselmeyer bandages it and returns it to Clara and the party winds down, guests depart, and the family goes to bed. Unable to sleep, Clara sneaks downstairs to visit her nutcracker. She is transported into a dream world as the home becomes a battleground between an army of soldiers and rats and the nutcracker becomes a life-sized general. Clara saves the day and the nutcracker is then transformed into a handsome prince. The two take an enchanted journey through the Land of Snow.

American Repertory Ballet, Credit: Leighton Chen

American Repertory Ballet, Credit: Leighton Chen

Act II finds Clara and the nutcracker prince making their way to the Land of Sweets where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and are treated to dances from all different lands including, Chocolate from Spain, Coffee from Arabia, Tea from China, Candy Canes from Russia, and Marzipan from Germany. This is followed by a fragrant bouquet of Flowers and the tour de force pas de deux by the Sugar Plum and her cavalier. After the grand finale, a joyful Clara returns home and wakes from her wonderful journey.

ARB’s production of “The Nutcracker” is suitable for all ages and is being performed at four venues throughout the state. (See calendar below.) To celebrate the 50th anniversary, the company is also holding special events throughout the season and offering many ways to get in the Nutcracker spirit. To enjoy a preview of the performances, please click here:

American Repertory Ballet performances: McCarter Theatre, Princeton New Jersey Wednesday, November 27, 7:00 pm Friday, November 29, 1:00 & 4:30 pm Saturday, November 30, 1:00 & 4:30 pm

Patriot’s Theater at the War Memorial, Trenton Saturday, December 7, 1:00 & 4:30 pm

Algonquin Arts Theatre, Manasquan Saturday, December 14, 1:00 & 4:30 pm Sunday, December 15, 3:00 pm

State Theatre, New Brunswick Saturday, December 21, 1:00 & 4:30 pm Sunday, December 22, 1:00 & 4:30 pm

For a full listing of events sponsored by the American Repertory Ballet, please visit www.arballet.org.


A Twist:

Lustig Dance Theatre

Lustig Dance Theatre

So you have already seen "The Nutcracker?" So, why not see it again – this time with a twist. Each company/choreographer stages the ballet differently as there are many ways to solve a puzzle. This year Graham Lustig, Artistic Director of Lustig Dance Theatre, unveils a brand-new holiday work, “A Jazzy Nutcracker.” With an original score inspired by familiar melodies, a live jazz band, wonderfully colorful sets and costumes, and the critically-acclaimed Lustig Dance Theatre professional dancers with 48 local dance students, “A Jazzy Nutcracker” brings a twist with new energy and verve to the holiday classic.

Set in the 1960's, “A Jazzy Nutcracker” features a Christmas celebration attended by Santa Claus, a space-age battle scene, a winter wonderland skating-rink, plus a magical night spent discovering the secrets of “Drosselmeyer’s” department store. Based on Tchaikovsky’s original composition and interlaced with other seasonal melodies, the original score has been composed by Rutgers University Professor Paul Undreiner. Funding for the new score has been underwritten with a grant from New Music USA’s 2013 Live Music for Dance Program, with generous support from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The grant will also support a live band for the performances.

After so many years paying respect to the long-held Nutcracker traditions with dance companies from coast to coast, Lustig is elated to be realizing his latest vision of the story: “Growing up in London in the 1960’s was an exciting and energetic era – one full of possibilities and promise. The fashion and music scenes were exploding with invention, jazz was thriving, the prospect of space travel held everyone’s imagination. My choreographic journey for this project begins with a great fondness for this unique decade. With “A Jazzy Nutcracker,” I have created a fun-filled ballet, brimming with humor and playfulness, which provides New Jersey patrons with a fresh, alternative entertainment option that embraces the joy of live music.”

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