With “The Nutcracker” being a local tradition that brings people out annually, Fort Wayne Ballet likes to make sure there is something new to see each year.
There's nothing like live theater, after all.
“If you want it the same, you go to the movies,” artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown says.
This year, audiences will see new choreography in several scenes and costumes including the Sugar Plum tutu. Gibbons-Brown says there is a three-year plan to refresh the sets, props and masks.
“Nutcracker,” which requires a legion of volunteers and includes more than 200 performers over the production's run, is the classic story of Clara's magical adventure to the Land of the Sweets. The ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is adapted from a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann.
Performances start Friday at Arts United Center. Several have limited seating remaining and at least two were sold out by Wednesday morning. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children's Choir join the Ballet for shows this Friday and Saturday.
There is a sensory-friendly performance Tuesday that is not open to the general public; email outreach director Tracy Tritz at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on that show.
The Muttcracker collaboration with Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control, which began in 2009, continues with adoption-eligible dogs, seen in the Act I party scene, available to visit with in the lobby during intermission.
There are Sugar Plum Parties after the four afternoon performances where guests can meet Clara and her friends – including unicorns – while trying sweets. Tickets are an additional $8.
We asked artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown, Fort Wayne Philharmonic associate conductor Caleb Young and several company dancers to write down their most memorable moments working on the annual “Nutcracker” production. Responses have been edited.
As you might imagine, I have many of those moments, both as a dancer, stager and director. And it is true that each and every performance has something new to see and add to the memory bank.
I do think one standout moment as a director is the year we added “snow” in the audience at the end of the beautiful snow scene. While I thought it was a fun idea, I had no idea the extra magic it created; children of all ages were amazed. As I get to see all performances from the back of the audience, I had the best view of the excitement it created.
It feels and looks like being in the middle of a giant snow globe and is as if you are dancing with the dancers on stage. Truly magical! I still get chill bumps watching it each time. The effect is now a part of our annual production.
There was one year that I pulled my back out literally the night of our dress rehearsal. It was about an hour before downbeat. I had to call our director of operations to come and carry me to his car and onstage to conduct that night.
I could barely move my body and arms, but the show must go on! I somehow made it through our dress and went right to urgent care. After some patchwork from a physician assistant, who ironically had a daughter dancing in the show, I was able to finish the run without issue.
A very memorable moment for me is, during one of the shows, the toy cannon that the little soldiers bring onstage was charged a little too much.
The music was playing and the cheese was set to attract the pesky mice, who the soldiers are at battle with, in Clara's house.
As the front little soldier diligently pretended to stuff the cannon, the others prepared themselves for the order to fire at the mice.
Then BOOM! The overcharged cannon went off and nearly scared everyone onstage to death.
It especially scared one little soldier, because standing in his position, his little soldier tooshie caught some of the sparks that flew through the air after the explosion.
Thankfully he was not hurt, but the backside of his neatly pressed uniform had charred holes from the hot sparks.
Afterwards, his mom picked him up from the theater and asked him, “How was the show?” He replied, “Well ... the cannon shot me in the butt, but I survived!”
I remember when I was doing Sugar Plum and coming off of a shoulder sit, my tights got caught on my partner's costume and got ripped. I did the rest of the pas with a big hole in my tights.
There was a time last year that my Sugar Plum Fairy partner, Kerry Coughlin, and I performed three times in one day.
For those who may not know, performing “The Nutcracker” is a marathon. Some of those performances require us to warm up at 8 a.m., while others are back to back with just enough time to eat dinner, warm up and put on costumes for a second show before the curtain goes up.
That day was exhilarating for Kerry and I. We started at 8 a.m. with a ballet class on stage preparing for two school shows for Fort Wayne Community Schools, one at 10 a.m. and one at noon.
We were tired by this point and really needed to stay focused on how we felt going forward into our second class for the day and third show. With a two-hour break before warmup, I decided to take a power nap to calm my mind and rest my body. Kerry, who likes her coffee, headed with friends to Fortezza to recharge.
Our second class was taught by artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown, who knows how to give a great class that prepared us for the show even though we are exhausted. What also helped is that Kerry and I have been performing Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier for three years. We had built a good friendship and knew how to make each other laugh and support one another when either of us is having a rough day. This day was no exception. Backstage we did our own rituals of warming up, four high-fives before the doll dances in Act I, our own choreographed handshake in Act II as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, plus a few puns to make the other smile before going onstage.
Those moments when we are offstage pumping each other up gave us the energy to persevere on such a long day. For us that is why we can smile and laugh at each other saying “Remember that three-a-day!” Reminding each other we can get through this marathon of a ballet.
A “remember that time when” moment is one year, on the week of the opening performance, all of the company was sewing our new Flowers costumes in the dressing rooms before and during all the rehearsals that week. The costumes needed their final touches to make them sparkle and such, so everyone (including some male company members) was sewing on tiny flowers and jewels. It is really special when a company can come together like that and support each other.
A moment that sticks with me was from my first year doing the snow scene. It was our final show and I remember some of the other dancers warned me that the stagehands tend to pile on the snow for a good last hurrah.
When it came time for the snow to fall, it came down pretty light to begin with as it usually did, then it got much heavier as we went on. Finally at the end when we were doing the bourree circles, a pile of snow dumped on me and I was covered in the fake snow! I had some in my mouth, stuck to my lashes and in my hair.
Even months later I found snow in my dance bag. It stays with you even after the run of “Nutcracker.”
I think my most memorable moments of “Nutcracker” are from the meet and greets and talk-backs after the school shows. I love getting to hear the reactions and questions the kids have.
It is so much fun to see the kids faces light up. It reminds me why I do what I do, and it gives me a chance to share the joy and the magic of the season.
If you go
What: “The Nutcracker”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Dec. 12, 13 and 14; 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Dec. 14 and 15
Where: Arts United Center, 303 E. Main St.
Admission: $50 to $55 for shows with Fort Wayne Philharmonic on Friday, Saturday; $40 to $50 for other dates; limited seating remains for some performances; Arts United box office, 422-4226 or tickets.artstix.org