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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the November 21,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The winter holiday season is traditionally a time for
comfort foods — hearty soups, savory roasts, pies, and sweets
of all kinds. But if America’s appetites seem dulled as we enter this
year’s more difficult holiday, it’s wise to remember that the arts
offer their own menu of comfort foods. And among these, "The
rates near the top for a confectionery family feast.
American Repertory Ballet’s artistic director Graham Lustig and the
award-winning stage designer Zack Brown have created a new vision
of the favorite wintertime entertainment. Unveiled for the first time
last season, their lavish new "Nutcracker" — which came
in slightly under its $450,000 budget — takes the holiday favorite
out of its customary Victorian surroundings into the elegant parlors
of turn-of-the-century Viennese society. Each performance features
a cast of 40 adults and 75 children, many dressed for multiple roles
in Brown’s brilliant and fanciful costumes.
Performances of ARB’s "Nutcracker" begin on Wednesday,
21, at McCarter Theater in Princeton, continuing through November
26. The production will be presented December 7 and 8 at New Jersey
Performing Arts Center, Newark; December 15 and 16 at the State
in New Brunswick; and December 22 at Patriots Theater at the War
in Trenton. Some performances feature special children’s events,
Land of the Sweets Receptions and Snowball Brunches.
Leading his company into the holiday season, Lustig is poignantly
aware of the national anxiety. Earlier in his career, as a dancer
in London, he remembers what it was like to be stuck in a crowded
subway car at rush hour during an IRA bomb alert. Today he believes
that helping families and friends coming together to share precious
experiences is more important than ever.
"Our loss is a loss of so many innocent people, but it is also
a loss of innocence," he says. "We hope our `Nutcracker’
can restore our faith in so much of what we feel is precious —
most of all for our children. This gives nurture to our souls at a
time when the soul has been much troubled."
ARB opened its annual season on September 29 with a program titled
"Dance For All" presented with the Carolyn Dorfman Company
at the State Theater. The performance was preceded by a two-minute
silent candlelight tribute to those lost to terrorist violence, with
dancers, staff, technical crew, and State Theater staff all gathered
Lustig says the art give affirmation both to the audience and the
performers. In "The Nutcracker", busy party scenes,
children’s dreams, and fantastical dancing sweets all come alive on
the theater stage.
"It’s very life affirming to be surrounded by all these children
— 75 in each cast, and we have two-and-a-half casts. And in Newark
we perform with the children of the Garden State Ballet School, and
also with the Newark Boys Choir," he says.
"With so many students performing, this is a time that gives us
a whole sense of the family, and of the close-knit community around
us, and how precious that is. Students this year are an inch or two
taller than last and they’re dancing new roles. It’s truly
In St. Petersburg, Russia, where the ballet was born, the original
1892 production of "The Nutcracker" was deemed a theatrical
failure and both Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa died
without ever knowing they had created a 20th-century best-seller.
The first production outside Russia was in London in 1934 and in
some 10 years later.
George Balanchine’s first production for New York City Ballet, based
on his own childhood memories of performing it in Russia, was in 1954.
His success was such that it has become a staple for companies across
the nation. New Jersey Ballet and Roxey Ballet are among many
presenting the show in New Jersey this year.
Audree Estey, who founded the Princeton Ballet School in 1954,
Princeton’s first "Nutcracker." Though influenced by
her production was notable for its lavish use of children and students
in all stages of professional development to tell the holiday story.
Today ARB’s opening scene provides a setting for Lustig’s storytelling
gifts and Brown’s stylish gowns and party dresses. From a warm,
drawing room, a big picture window looks out onto a frozen lake. And
while the party scene unfolds indoors, we can also watch a young
courting and a snowball fight outdoors.
Once Marie’s dreams begin, the Viennese influence extends into the
ballet’s fantastical characters. The Rat King wears a lavish black
velvet robe, trimmed in ermine, decorated with sinuous ropes of gold
braid that is based on Viennese court dress of the period. The magical
Snow Scene, set within a beautiful frozen silver birch forest,
young dancers dressed as big rotund snowballs who dance playfully
with elegant snow maidens in ice-blue gowns.
"I don’t want to boast, but we received an overwhelmingly positive
response last year — sometimes from complete strangers," says
Lustig. He reports that at a New York dance performance not long ago,
a young woman tapped him on the shoulder to tell him that she and
her boyfriend had enjoyed this "Nutcracker" so much, that
when they had children they were planning to bring them to his
"`The Nutcracker’ is our holiday gift to our larger community,
so we can communicate the joy we take in what we do," says Lustig.
"But the gift of our dance is only valid when we present it. It’s
only be giving our gift that we become alive."
— Nicole Plett
Theater, 91 University Place, 609-258-2787. $25 & $30. Performances
Wednesday, November 21, 7 p.m., and Friday, November 23,
through Monday, November 26.
732-246-7469. Accompaniment by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
$15 to $40. Friday, December 7, 7 p.m., & Saturday, December
8, 1:30 and 6 p.m.
Brunswick, 732-246-7469. Performed to live music. $20 & $25.
& Sunday, December 15 & 16, 1:30 & 4:30 p.m.
Theater, War Memorial, Trenton, 609-984-8400. $20 & $25. Saturday,
December 22, 1 & 4:30 p.m.
High School, 180 West Bridge Street, New Hope, 609-397-7616. The
favorite danced by the Lambertville-based Roxey Ballet. $20.
November 23, through Sunday, November 25.
Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420. International Ballet Theater
presents holiday show. $22 and $27. Friday, December 14, 7 p.m.
and Saturday, December 15, at 2 p.m.
Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343. New Jersey Ballet’s production features
a cast of 100, sets by Michael Anania, and live accompaniment by the
Paper Mill Orchestra. $20 to $44. Performances Friday, December
21, through Sunday, December 30.
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