Chances are that by now, both Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music and the story of little Clara and her magical journey to the Land of the Sweets are quite familiar.
But there are some things you may not know about the Dayton Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” that’s slated for 10 upcoming performances at the Schuster Center from Friday, Dec. 13 through Monday, Dec. 23.
Accompanied by the full Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Neal Gittleman, the cast will include dancers from Dayton Ballet II and the Dayton Ballet School as well as 100 children from 30 different schools throughout our area. The Ballet’s artistic director Karen Russo Burke is the choreographer.
A female nutcracker?
For the first time in its history, the Dayton Ballet has cast a professional female dancer in the role of the Nutcracker. The company’s Miranda Dafoe will be sharing the role with a male dancer who will perform in the alternative cast. “She will represent the strength and dedication of our female military soldiers,” Burke says.
DaFoe says she was surprised to learn that she was cast in the traditional male role. “It’s never been done before, and I believe this is the first professional company to have the Nutcracker danced by a woman,” says DaFoe, who says she’s enjoying the challenge of portraying a new type of character.
“Right now I am working on developing the character so that it reads as a strong female who takes Clara on the journey through the Land of Sweets,” DaFoe says. “I really like the idea of having an almost sisterly, female role-model type relationship with Clara.”
Dafoe says she’s proud to be the first. “I think this will bring a fresh perspective to a classic story and be a really cool twist for the Nutcracker.”
As for adjusting the costume, originally designed by Lowell Mathwich, that task was undertaken by wardrobe supervisor Lyn Baudendistel. “The Nutcracker’s mustache has been made removable and the beard ‘hide-able,’” she says. “Instead of tights, we’ve made white leggings for Miranda. If there was enough extra fabric, she adds, a new tunic would have been made for her which would have been easier. As it is, the tunic has required some significant alterations – while still maintaining the ability to switch it back to a man’s tunic.”
Sensory-friendly performance slated
Last year for the first time, the Ballet hosted a sensory-friendly performance of the first act of “The Nutcracker.” The event proved so popular that this year the entire ballet will be staged for a sensory-friendly audience on the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 20.
The special presentation is designed for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder, sensory sensitivities or other special needs. “These sensory-friendly performances feature a supportive, judgment-free environment with relaxed theater rules,” Burke says.
The adaptations include dimmed house lights at 30-percent brightness; lower sound levels; elimination of startling special effects and lighting; relaxed theater rules — the freedom to get up, move around, and come and go as you desire; designated quiet areas and ushers throughout the theater to assist patrons. The dancers, staff and ushers receive special training to ensure a memorable experience.
After seeing something posted on the Dayton Special Needs Mom group on Facebook, Natalee Mossing-Landers decided to take her daughter, Madison, to the special performance.
The Centerville mom had never taken her daughter to a ballet performance and wasn’t sure how she would do. “Madison and I absolutely loved the performance!” she says. “She never once asked to get up and leave so it was a success. During intermission we were able to get closer to the stage where she could really see the dancers up close.”
Although in retrospect she thinks her daughter might be fine at a typical ballet performance, the sensory-friendly experience meant she didn’t have to worry in advance about how others might treat her child and whether she’d have to keep her quiet during the show. “She doesn’t always understand the concept of a whisper, or that you can’t just get up to use the restroom in the middle of a performance,” Natalee explains. “In addition, we had her service dog with us and being at a ‘sensory’ performance I know I won’t get ‘looks’ from others. It just makes the day so much more enjoyable.
“The overall experience was wonderful and I hope to make this an annual event for us.”
Have you ever wondered why “The Nutcracker” has two complete casts and why every 10 years it has all-new choreography, costumes and sets?
“’Nutcracker’ is very demanding and has the longest performance run, so switching casts keeps it fresh and helps reduce injuries,” Burke says. “One of the reasons that the Nutcracker has a 10-year lifespan is that 10 is the average age of a student in the production or an audience member. So if they begin to dance in Nutcracker at age 7, then in 10 years they would be about to graduate.”
She says another reason is the wear and tear of the costumes and sets. “When they’ve been used more than 100 times, it does take its toll.”
Newlyweds will dance
Two of the dancers you’ll see in this year’s “Nutcracker” are Paul Gilliam and Katy Bowlby, who were married over the summer. Paul, who will be dancing the leading role of Cavalier for the 11th year, has been with the company for 14 years. Katy will dance the role of Snow Queen.
The couple was married in June in Oklahoma, with 15 members of the company attending. The two met in 2012 at a pre-season barbeque hosted by another Dayton Ballet married couple, Case and Annalise Bodamer. “I think it’s really special to be able to share a love and passion for ballet with my husband,” Katy says. “With Paul I know I have a constant support system, in and out of the studio.”
Paul says it’s not always easy to work and live together. “Sometimes the stressful side of work can come home with you,” he says. “But we always make the best of it and still love what we do.”
But wait, there’s more!
Before the performances and during intermissions, check out these holiday treats:
• “Behind the Ballet,” an after-performance session during which ticket holders meet in the orchestra to enjoy a free Q&A with Burke and the dancers.
• The Sugar Plum Tea hosted by the Dayton Ballet Barre is held at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15, before the matinee performance at the Dayton Woman’s Club, 225 N. Ludlow St. in downtown Dayton. Tickets are $20 for adults and children and are available through Ticket Center Stage at (888) 228-3630.
• Rike’s Wonderland Windows have been refreshed by scenic designer Adam Koch and are now on display in the Schuster Center Wintergarden. Kids can shop at the Tike’s Shoppe, and can meet Santa from 2-5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
• Nutcracker Boutique is open before each performance and during intermissions. It features hundreds of holiday nutcrackers of all sizes, painted pointe shoes, and ballet-themed items for sale.
• Graeter’s Sweet Shoppe offers yummy holiday goodies at each performance.
• Muttcracker is Burke’s “pet” project and provides an opportunity for animal rescue organizations to bring dogs who are up for adoption to the theater. This year’s it’s Liberty Acres United Rescue Animal Sanctuary, located in Liberty, Indiana. The dogs will be present at matinees on Dec. 14, 15, 21, 22 and 23.
“I have worked with this organization in the past and I love and am amazed by the work they do!” says Cory Wilhite, the Ballet’s administrative assistant. “Liberty Acres saves older dogs that many people have just written off and gives them new life. You can see just after a few seconds the love and care that these people have for their job and for their furry rescued friends.”
Because of the love provided to these older dogs, says Wilhite, you’ll often see them acting like puppies again. “Because of all of this I want to give Liberty Acres a helping hand through Muttcracker, and hopefully help these wonderful dogs get the best Christmas present in the world, a forever home.”