Christine Meneer, artistic director of Ballet Theatre of Ohio, has been bringing her “Nutcracker” to Akron area audiences for 20 years now. The longstanding event began, Meneer said in an interview, when some of the students from her dance school were appearing in a touring version of the classic holiday season dance.
She thought right away, she said, that she could do that herself. And she has been doing so some 20 times now.
Remarkably her production is a work in continuous progress. There’s almost always been something new each year. One year Meneer rigged it so the Christmas tree in the first scene (the Victorian party set) kept growing taller and taller until it filled the entire back of the stage. In yet another year, the presents under the tree (props really) were gigantic. Last year it was new choreography in the second act and lots of new costumes.
This go-around is no exception for some novelties.
As a way to celebrate the 20th occasion of “Nutcracker,” Meneer has dedicated one evening’s performance to a knock-off of the usual tale with what she is calling “Nutty Nutcracker,” a humorous spoof on the well-known story of Clara, who gets a magical nutcracker for Christmas, which at first saves her from menacing mice, and after transforming into a living handsome Prince, whisks her off to equally magical, exotic and glamorous adventures around Clara’s imaginary world.
Act II will look entirely different. Meneer hired set designer Jack Ballance to come up with a spectacular new set, Meneer said.
Additionally, since it is a milestone year, Meneer is creating an historical overview of costumes used throughout the years. As she put it, “Long-time patrons will be delighted as they take a walk down memory lane, while those new to the production will enjoy a glamorous glimpse into our past.” For those of us who have seen the work more than 15 times, Meneer is likely correct.
What will stay stable and be obvious to most in the audience is the dramatic choreography that Meneer has created for this production and her ability to get subtle and persuasive performances out of her dancers and actors. Fortunately she has some performers who have been in every production of her “Nutcracker,” like Joshua Isley as the dramatic catalyst character of Drosselmyer (who gives Clara the nutcracker), Kim Sulek (Mother Ginger) and Erin Kelly (Clara’s Mother). In rehearsals with this huge cast, these veterans help tremendously with staging for the newer performers; they have been at it engough that they can pretty much direct itheir sections themselves.
Ballet Theatre of Ohio will present its traditional version of “Nutcracker” at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday from November 24-December 2. There will be a special performance of “Nutty Nutcracker” at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 30. All performances will take place in the Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St., Akron; 330-253-2488; www.akroncivic.com or www.ballettheatreohio.org. Tickets are $20-$42.