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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Symphony joins forces with new company for ‘Nutcracker’

Holiday favorite lands at the Fox

“The Nutcracker” hits the Fox starting Friday.
“The Nutcracker” hits the Fox starting Friday.

Maybe you’ve seen the Spokane Symphony’s “The Nutcracker” before, but never like this.

This venerable holiday tradition has been re-energized, with several firsts:

• A new ballet company, the State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara, Calif.

• A new stage: The Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, instead of the INB Performing Arts Center.

• Nearly double the usual number of local student-dancers, at 124.

One element that remains the same: The Spokane Symphony will play Tchaikovsky’s lush and beloved score, under the direction of resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara.

Two of this year’s firsts are intertwined, because the Fox’s stage is smaller than the INB’s stage.

“After looking at a lot of different ballet companies, we selected the State Street Ballet because their production is geared toward smaller theaters,” said the symphony’s Annie Matlow. “It provides a more intimate feeling. Yet it still provides a rich and beautiful experience. We are not compromising on sets.”

The Fox’s capacity is also smaller by nearly 1,000 seats. That will be offset by an added performance: five instead of the usual four.

And the restored art deco Fox provides an intangible advantage as well – a setting as gorgeous as the ballet itself,

“We think we have something special to start with,” Matlow said.

The State Street Ballet replaces Ballet Memphis (the past two years) and the Alberta Ballet before that. This 20-dancer professional troupe was founded by artistic director Rodney Gustafson, who has impressive professional credentials. He performed with the American Ballet Theatre, Cleveland Ballet and the Geneva Ballet. He has worked with a long list of dance legends including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, Rudolf Nureyev and Jerome Robbins.

The State Street has been touring their “Nutcracker” around the country for more than 15 years. Gustafson based this production on the famous Baryshnikov version. Gustafson is familiar with that production, since he danced in it. Gustafson also appears as the Court Buffoon in the 1977 TV adaptation.

“We took this whole ballet and tried to give everything personality,” Gustafson said in an interview with the News-Press in St. Joseph, Mo., where the State Street performed last weekend.

The Spokane Symphony’s “Nutcracker,” has always used local student-dancers to fill out the cast, but State Street has taken that concept even further. State Street cast 124 students through local auditions instead of the usual 70 or so.

“The State Street people really gave high compliments to the training that local students have gotten,” Matlow said.

Dodie Askegard of Ballet Arts Studio has been rehearsing the young dancers, drawn from 11 local ballet studios. The student casts will be rotated through the five performances to give all 124 a chance to appear.

The move to the Fox – the symphony’s own space – provides one more first. The symphony has opened a Nutcracker Shop in the Fox lobby. It will sell Nutcracker items including ornaments, coffee, ballet-slipper socks, snow globes and a collectible Fox ornament, among other things. And the snack bar will sell special items, such as “Sugar Plum” drinks for kids.

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