Aspen Santa Fe Ballet extends ‘The Nutcracker’ run
December 3, 2009
ASPEN – The New York City Ballet began its annual run of “The Nutcracker” last week, and the calendar will read 2010 by the time the company takes off the rat and soldier costumes for the year, and gives the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” one final spin. Like several dance companies, the New York City Ballet wants to make sure that everyone has a chance to see a production of the holiday-time classic – even if the performance takes place well before the Christmas lights go up.
To Tom Mossbrucker, artistic director of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, that’s not a “Nutcracker.” That’s a ball-breaker. “I wouldn’t want to do two months of it,” he said.
But Mossbrucker believes that the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s customary “Nutcracker” schedule – one weekend, packed with four performances – leans too far in the other direction. The local production, which features lavish sets and the 100-plus dancers of the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, is over in a flash.
“We always thought, by the time we got to the last show, we’d finally gotten it right,” Mossbrucker said. “We work for two and a half weeks putting it together, which isn’t a lot of time – each year we have 20 additional dancers to work in. It’s jam-packed and it always feels like we put on the show and it’s over. It’s a little dissatisfying. For years we’ve been thinking, We work so hard; the dancers just get their lungs, and we’d like to take this somewhere else.”
Mossbrucker must have been good this year; he got his wish. One of those ribbon-wrapped packages on the “Nutcracker” set contained a ticket for the 13-year-old company to bring its version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story and Tchaikovsky’s music to Fayetteville, Ark. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet danced four performances of “The Nutcracker” last week at the 1,500-seat Walton Arts Center. It was the first time the well-traveled company, which has appeared from California to Manhattan and Canada to France, took its “Nutcracker” outside of Aspen or Santa Fe, its second home base.
From another perspective, taking the show on the road meant more work. The company schlepped three truckloads of sets and costumes on a two-day journey from Colorado to Arkansas. Much of the cargo was big, hard structures that don’t fold up.
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“It presented all kinds of logistical problems we’ve never had to deal with before,” Mossbrucker said.
Getting the human components in place was an even bigger production. The professional dancers who performed in Fayetteville are the same ones who will appear when Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs “The Nutcracker” in Aspen this weekend – Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5-6, at the Aspen District Theatre, with matinee and evening performances each day. But the students of the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet were not part of the traveling crew; instead, Jean-Philippe Malaty, executive director of the company, and Melanie Doskocil, recruited young dancers from several programs in the Fayetteville area. The two went to Arkansas in August and worked with a children’s dance coach to audition and train the flock of 60 students necessary for the production.
Fayetteville turned out to be a fine destination for the experiment. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet had performed programs of mixed repertoire twice before. There was no local company that had a tradition of presenting “The Nutcracker” there.
The advantages of taking “The Nutcracker” on the road go beyond extending the run for the dancers. It helps further establish Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in another corner of the country: “You get rooted in the community, thanks to all those kids involved,” Mossbrucker said. And in the bigger picture, it helps spread a passion for dance.
“When I did ‘The Nutcracker’ as a kid, it felt like being part of something bigger than our own studio productions that we normally did,” Mossbrucker said. “That has a big impact on a kid.”
The benefits extend to the Aspen audiences, who get to see the company after it has a few performances under its belt. (And even more so to the audiences in Santa Fe, where the company takes “The Nutcracker” next weekend.)
“The more performances you do, the better it gets,” Mossbrucker said.