Christmas comes every year, and for BalletMet Columbus, so too does “The Nutcracker.”
The ballet, with its world of toys and adventure in a little girl’s dream land, is makes its return Friday to the central Ohio ballet company, which has performed it every year since 1978, said BalletMet communications manager Ann Mulvany in an email.
“The current version of BalletMet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ was created in 2003 by Robert Post and former BalletMet artistic director Gerard Charles,” Mulvany said.
Current artistic director Edwaard Liang, a former dancer with New York City Ballet who joined BalletMet in 2013, has the reins on this year’s production.
The two-act production itself has a long history. First performed in December 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is based on the novel “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” written by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann.
The story follows Clara, a girl who receives a Nutcracker doll from her toymaker godfather on Christmas Eve. After the doll is smashed by Clara’s brother Fritz, Clara becomes heartbroken and checks on it late at night after her family retires for the evening. When the clock strikes midnight, Clara shrinks down to toy-size as the room comes to life with toys. She then goes on an adventure as the Nutcracker and his army of toy soldiers battle against the Mouse King and his army of mice.
Because BalletMet performs the show every year, very few changes are made set pieces and costumes, Mulvany said.
With about 250 costumes, made from 750 individual pieces, used in the production, changes are rarely made to them, said to costume shop manager Erin Rollins in an email.
“Most of the costumes stay the same from year-to-year, but they are frequently altered to fit the specific dancers who will be performing each role throughout the 15-show run,” Mulvany said. “There are multiple versions of each character’s costume to fit dancers of differing heights and sizes, but it is sometimes necessary to build a new costume from scratch if a dancer is particularly short or tall.”
According to Rollins, who has worked on the production for 11 seasons, the costumes worn during the party scene in which Clara receives the Nutcracker doll reflect the latter part of the Victorian Era.
“Some key attributes of women’s clothing in that time was the ‘pigeon breast’ front bodice, which padded the front of the bodice to make a round shape, the lovely ‘puffed sleeves’ that Anne Shirley (a fictional character from ‘Anne of Green Gables’) so adored and a long skirt worn flat in front and quite full in back,” Rollins said. “Men’s formal clothing has changed so little between 1850 and present day that only an expert can spot the differences. As a result, our men’s costumes look very similar to what you might see in a wedding today.”
One of the challenges for female costumes in “The Nutcracker” is the styling of women’s clothing in the time period, Rollins said.
“The trick with putting period-accurate clothing on dancers is that up until 1920, women’s clothing was so restrictive that only walking and simple arm movements were possible,” Rollins said. “This of course won’t do on a ballet dancer, so our women’s costumes only retain echoes of the time period— the pigeon front is replaced with pleating so partnering is possible, the puffed sleeves give way to lovely arm drapes to allow for arm movement and the full skirt remains.”
Because the show is produced annually, production manager Jamie Gross said putting it together is not a difficult process because her team knows the show so well, even though the show is not a simple production.
“The most challenging thing is getting new team members up to speed on how this production runs,” Gross said, currently on her eighth “Nutcracker” season. “For as long as I have been at BalletMet, we have taken ‘The Nutcracker’ on tour each year prior to performing in Columbus. This gives us all a refresher course before we return to Columbus.”
Casting for the show differs for adult and children dancers, according to Mulvany.
“The adult roles in ‘The Nutcracker’ are filled by BalletMet’s professional company dancers who are hired for the entire season,” Mulvany said. “Children’s roles are filled by more than 150 student dancers from the BalletMet Dance Academy, along with a handful of gymnasts. These students audition each year in the fall for the chance to be cast alongside BalletMet’s professional dancers in The Nutcracker.”
The BalletMet Dance Academy, founded in 1980, ranks among the five largest professional dance training centers in the United States and offers a variety of classes to students ranging from ages 4 to 84 years old, according to BalletMet’s website.
“The Nutcracker” has a two-hour runtime and is set to open Friday at the Ohio Theatre. 15 shows will be performed between Friday and Dec. 27, with varying show times at 1, 2, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
On Dec. 27, BalletMet will also feature a one-night only performance of “A Nutty Nutcracker,” a parody of the classic holiday tale.
“‘A Nutty Nutcracker’ is a show where anything can happen and probably will,” Mulvany said. “There’s so much we can’t tell you, but we guarantee you an evening of laughs. You’ll see your favorite Nutcracker characters in some truly outrageous situations along with several of Columbus’ local celebrities.”
Along with those “local celebrities” — whose identities are being kept under-wraps — the holiday spoof will also feature crazy costumes and unusual props.
“With local news personalities, characters from your childhood and even a modern Disney princess, this performance will be everything you don’t expect,” Mulvany said.
“A Nutty Nutcracker” is set to be performed at 7:30 p.m. at the Ohio Theatre. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster.