Sangre de Cristo Ballet shines with blend of traditional and contemporary choreography
It’s one of the ballet world’s most recognized performances, as traditional as eggnog and tinsel at Christmastime. The Nutcracker is a beloved holiday favorite and for good reason: it’s filled with visions of sugar plum fairies, dolls that turn into heroic princes, a delightful musical score, and a happily-ever-after ending beneath a sparkling fir tree. In the hands of the Sangre de Cristo Ballet, it’s also an opportunity to update a classic by including contemporary elements that appeal to younger audience members.
Under the artistic direction of Stephen Wynne, the 14th annual Nutcracker at the Arts Center will deliver a blend of traditional and contemporary choreography, complete with magical characters, an epic battle, a breathtaking Dance of the Snowflakes, and cultural elements from around the world. A special operatic performance by singer Tiffany Grant adds a new, classic highlight to Act I, while the acclaimed aerial silk artists from last year’s performance return for an encore appearance in the Arabian Coffee dance. The Sugar Plum Fairy – a coveted role for a ballerina – is shared this year between senior Sangre de Cristo Ballet dancers Annelise Carlson and Ellie Jay. The Sugarplum Cavalier is danced by Juan Michael Porter II, a professional dancer and new instructor at the Sangre de Cristo School of Dance. Clara, the young girl at the center of the story, will be danced by Adrienne Archuleta and Madilynn Vensor.
Also returning this year are the fierce, fighting rats, which threaten Clara and force her Nutcracker doll to come to life to protect her. This scene of good versus evil, as represented by the Nutcracker and his army of soldiers, and the insidious rats, is a favorite of younger audience members, many of whom saw an abbreviated version of the ballet during special “Nutshell” performances for school children in November. The rats and soldiers are portrayed by local middle and high school students who auditioned for the roles. Many of them are new to the stage, but approach their roles with no less vigor than seasoned actors.
“These scenes are incredibly athletic and include stage combat techniques so that the battle has a very realistic effect on the audience,” says Wynne. “The students are very engaged because they are in awe that something like this could be placed in a ballet. These are young men and women who never thought they would ever be in a ballet because they had preconceived ideas of what ballet is.”
Wynne says that by infusing contemporary elements into the classic production, he is able to better engage his student dancers, as well as the audience. Placing the Stahlbaum family from the story in a modern day living room, for example, creates an immediate association with the characters and their reality.
“A contemporary version allows us to bring forth the basic elements of the performance, which are good versus evil,” he says. “We can be playful with it, taking the threat of the rats, for example, and making it more ominous, thereby providing more relief when it is resolved. Nutcracker, especially the first act, is about facing the unknown, which can be fearful. The students can use the experience in real life.”
Wynne says that the process of the production is just as important as the end result. For the dancers, most of whom are middle and high school ages, there is much to be learned during three months of rehearsals, including intense daily rehearsals the final month before performances. Edited versions of the rehearsals are videotaped and loaded to the Arts Center web site each week to give the general public a behind-the-scenes look at how the dancers are developing in their roles along the way (sdc-arts.org/behindthescenes.html).
“We give equal emphasis to character development,” Wynne explains. “It gives the dancers more tools to fully develop their roles and the meat of the narrative, rather than just see how many pirouettes they can do. It also delivers a more satisfying experience for the audience. It becomes their story, rather than just another replica.”
Sangre de Cristo Ballet’s production of Nutcracker premieres December 5-8 in the Arts Center Theater. Performances are at 7:30 pm, Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm on Saturday and Sunday, with a cookie reception following the opening night performance on Dec. 5. A highlight of every year’s production is the guest appearance of community members in the role of Mother Ginger in Act II. Mother Ginger represents a gingerbread house, from underneath whose voluminous skirts appear dancing gingerbread children. This year’s Mother Gingers are Dr. Teresa Braden (appearing Thursday, December 5 at 7:30 pm), Stephanie Stowell (Friday, December 6 at 7:30 pm), Phyllis Samora (Saturday, December 7 at 2 pm), Tess Pickerel (Saturday, December 7 at 7:30 pm), and Kristi Alfonso (Sunday, December 8 at 2 pm).
Nutcracker is sponsored by The Chamberlain Foundation. Tickets are $10 for Arts Center members and $12 for the general public. To purchase, call (719) 295-7200, or visit the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, located at 210 N. Santa Fe Ave., Monday-Friday, 9 am-5 pm, and Saturday, 9 am-4 pm. For more information, visit online at www.sangredecristoarts.org.
All promotional photos can be found online here: