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Dayton Ballet unveils new Nutcracker ballet

Production will feature new sets, costumes, choreography and the Dayton Philharmonic

A sparking holiday gift to the Miami Valley will be unveiled on Friday, Dec. 13, when the Dayton Ballet’s new version of The Nutcracker premieres at the Schuster Center. Eight performances of the classic tale, based on the book by E.T.A. Hoffman and with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, will run through Dec. 22.

The new production, which features fresh choreography, sets and costumes, will be accompanied by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. More than 125 dancers will create characters ranging from an excited little girl named Clara to a Nutcracker and Sugar Plum Fairy. The cast includes 19 professional dancers, members of Dayton Ballet II Junior and Senior companies, and local children from more than 11 different dance schools.

In addition to the eight performances, which run through Dec. 22, the company is hosting backstage tours of the new set, a festive Nutcracker Tea for little girls, a boutique filled with nutcrackers and ballet treasures, and post-performance visits with the ballet’s artistic director Karen Russo Burke.

The year-long undertaking marks the first time in a decade that the company has staged a new version of the time-honored classic. Price tag for the new sets and costumes is estimated at $200,000.

“Last year we did very well in bringing in new audiences,” says Paul Helfrich, president and CEO of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance. “It was exciting that of 16,000 people who attended, about 75 percent hadn’t been to The Nutcracker within the past five years. And that’s something we hope to continue in 2013. The addition of the live orchestra added so much last year, so to have live music and this beautiful new production this year is going to be a big draw.”

Mounting a new production

Much of the credit for the production’s new look goes to Burke for her new choreography, to set designer Ray Zupp and to resident costume designer Lowell Mathwich.

“The challenge of creating a new Nutcracker is to be creative with something that mostly everyone has seen at least once and to put a fresh spin on it while trying to still keep it traditional,” explains Burke. “I myself have been in the Nutcracker for over 40 years so the dancers and I had to actually have a “split” brain type of process in the studio trying to remember what was and what it has now become.”

What it has become for 2013 is a blend of the classic and the new. For the past 10 years, the local Nutcracker has featured a hometown Dayton spin.

“We are going back to the story of Clara and Fritz and the Silberhaus family because it is the true traditional Nutcracker story,” explains Burke. ” It was wonderful to be able to draw on the richness of Dayton’s history for the last version, but we felt it was time to go back to the classic storyline.”

This version, she says, will feature a Land of the Sweets in the second act.

“The last version was about the nationalities of each of the divertissement or dances,” explains Burke. ” This year we are having the families that visit the Silberhaus Family in the first act bring a dessert to the party and these desserts will be the larger representation for the second act. For example, a family is bringing red and white ribbon candy to the party and in the second act that will be the Russian Dancers.”

Burke says she also felt it was important to include “Clara’s dream” in the second act rather than simply use the little girl as an observer.

“I have her and the Nutcracker Prince dancing throughout the ballet and not just sitting and watching for most of it,” Burke explains.

Much that’s new

The new show features state-of-the-art sets built by Dayton’s Scenic Solutions and includes fiber optics and special effects by lighting designer Daniel McLaughlin that will add bright colors and Broadway-style razzle-dazzle to the production.

Mathwich, known for his spectacular costumes, has created and constructed more than 250 new costumes for The Nutcracker this year. He scouted New York’s garment district for the perfect fabrics, laces, beading and trims.

“The look for the costumes in the first act party scene was based on a time period — the 1840s — that had a pretty silhouette, with petticoats, pantaloons and ruffles,” Mathwich says. “The party scene — which is a sweets party — influences the look for the second act costumes. Although there is still a nationalistic look, we have Turkish Delight, Sugar Candy Violets, Dark Spanish Chocolate with Orange Crème filling, Ribbon Candy and Gingerbread Boys and Girls — all sweets that were on the table at the party.”

Funding the show

Helfrich says The Nutcracker is very important financially to the Ballet, and represents 15 percent of ticket sales for the entire year including subscriptions and single ticket sales.

“It’s the one ballet everyone has heard of and wants to see,” he says. “We know it will bring in many people who don’t come to anything else we do.”

The community has responded with enthusiasm; Helfrich says there have been many generous donors and Vectren will be sponsoring the holiday production for the eleventh consecutive season.

Made for the kids

At one hour and 45 minutes, the idea is to keep the new show “family friendly.”

“A lot of our audiences are made up of young children, especially at matinees, ” Helfrich says. “We see more kids at The Nutcracker than for anything else we do.”

He says The Nutcracker doesn’t require audiences to be dance experts.

“It’s now as much a part of the holiday season as putting up the tree and getting your shopping done,” Helfrich says. “It provides wonderful visual reminders of the holiday season, incredible music, and the most important part is that it’s a family tradition that can be shared by young kids, parents, grandparents.”

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