Ballet is kicking high these days. Jennifer Homan’s highly regarded history, “Apollo’s Angels,” has just been published, and Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” – a kind of ballet horror movie – is reaching theaters.
And, of course, performances of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” are happening everywhere this holiday season. Spokane is no exception.
Beginning Friday, the Spokane Symphony will play four performances of “The Nutcracker,” with dancing by Ballet Memphis, at the INB Performing Arts Center.
The production uses principal dancers from Ballet Memphis along with the company’s scenery and costumes, together with 70 young dancers chosen by audition from ballet schools in the Inland Northwest, including Christopher Brown as Fritz.
The local dancers have been trained for the production by Peggy Goodner-Tan and Dodie Askegard of Ballet Arts Academy.
As a special added attraction this year, American Family Insurance is giving each child in attendance a nutcracker ornament and the opportunity to have a holiday photo taken.
The symphony has a nearly 30-year history presenting annual “Nutcracker” performances. This weekend marks the second season Ballet Memphis will appear as a part of these holiday offerings.
The choreography for this production has been set by three different choreographers.
Janet Parke, principal of Ballet Memphis School and director of its junior company, choreographed the opening Party Scene.
Karl Condon, the company’s associate artistic director, has choreographed the remainder of Act I with the Battle Scene and the Realm of Snowflakes.
Act II in the Realm of Sweets is the work of Joseph Jeffries, a former Ballet Memphis dancer who left the company to join Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
The use of more than one choreographer for “The Nutcracker” has a long history.
The first production, at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in 1892, resulted from a collaboration between its composer, Pytor Tchaikovsky, and Marius Petipa, ballet master of the Imperial Ballet.
As the production took shape, though, the 74-year-old Petipa fell ill, and most of the dances were the product of his assistant, Lev Ivanov.
Tchaikovsky and Petipa based the scenario on Alexandre Dumas’ French adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 novella, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”
It tells the story of a party at the home of the wealthy Stahlbaum family, where daughter Clara is given a nutcracker in the shape of a soldier. Her brother Fritz breaks the nutcracker and Clara goes tearfully to bed.
She wakes up, comes downstairs and, holding her nutcracker, goes back to sleep. She dreams of a battle of mice and toys under a giant Christmas tree and a trip through the Realm of Snow with her Nutcracker Prince to the Realm of Sweets, where they are entertained by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier and dances from exotic places.
After its premiere, the ballet had a few different stagings based on the traditional Ivanov choreography, but it was barely known outside Russia.
“The Nutcracker” was performed in a sharply cut-down version by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in New York in 1940. But only in 1944 did the American dancer-choreographer Willam Chistensen stage a complete “Nutcracker” with San Francisco Ballet.
The rest is history. George Balanchine created his highly influential “Nutcracker” for New York City Ballet in 1954, a production which recently enjoyed its 2,000th performance.