For many young girls and boys, “The Nutcracker” is an awakening.
It’s often their first time witnessing the magic created by pointed toes and beautiful lines. The ballet dancers are strong, graceful and exciting to watch as they dance to dreamy Christmas music – the kind of vision that drives a child to request ballet lessons immediately.
The Ballet Theatre of Maryland hopes to produce that same childlike wonder and love of ballet this holiday season through its romantic performance of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”
For the first time, the Annapolis-based company will perform this holiday classic at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric in Baltimore. They’ve performed one ballet a year at the Lyric for the past four years, but this is their first year in residence.
“We have a brand new set that will be seen for the first time in its entirety at the Lyric. It has some twists to it that will make it interesting for people who have seen a lot of ‘Nutcrackers,’” said BTM Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto.
She added extra choreography to the Lyric performances to make the show special for a new audience.
“We put more dance content in it and found a way to blend the wonder of the child with the expertise of professionals,” she said. “It has a lot of spirit and energy. It’s our first time at the Lyric. The theatre couldn’t be more perfect for Nutcracker because it brings a different dimension. It has a very warm feeling to it. It’s perfect for this holiday classic.”
The show will also mark the first time that the BTM dances to live music performed by the Concert Artists of Baltimore.
“That’ll bring an energy to it that’s new,” Cuatto said.
The large amount of dance content at an advanced level gives the ballet energy that flows from one scene to the next.
“We’re good dramatists,” Cuatto said. “That’s probably the best thing about our company, so for the non-dance aficionado, I think our storytelling is really strong.”
Ballet Theatre of Maryland Principal Dancers Lynne Bellinger and Nicole Kelsch will take turns dancing the parts of both Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“This ballet is pretty much the reason that I dance. I saw ‘The Nutcracker’ when I was three and I told my mother I was going to be Clara someday,” Kelsch said. “I think I loved it because of the Christmas feeling that it brings and the tradition. It also has a great, happy ending.”
Both Kelsch and Bellinger enjoy dancing the party scene, which opens the ballet.
“To me, it’s the most fun,” Bellinger said. “You can skip around and smile at your friends and tell the story in a way that’s more than just straight classical dancing. I laugh on stage a lot during party scene.”
Both dancers have danced the lead in "The Nutcracker" before.
"I love the tradition of Nutcracker. Doing it for a couple years you get familiar with the choreography," Bellinger said. "You get to put more into it and it’s more about the dancing and the story as opposed to focusing on remembering the steps."
To close the show, Clara and the Nutcracker dance a challenging and romantic pas de deux. For Kelsch, who loved nutcrackers growing up, the scene brings her love of dance full circle – but it also showcases the hard work and skill necessary to perform.
“I’d say this particular version of the Nutcracker is really demanding for the Clara part because she dances on stage the entire ballet. Then she has to finish with a very difficult pas de deux. It’s a lot of leg stamina,” Cuatto said.
The company focuses on health in all facets, from classes to performances.
“You’ll see a lot of different sized dancers in our company. We don’t worry about that,” Cuatto said. “We’re more concerned about health. Having the same body type doesn’t send a good message to young kids.”
She believes kids should give ballet a chance if they’re interested.
“It’s hard work. It’s challenging. It’s fun. It’s a really good way to stay in shape,” she said. “It’s a difficult sport at times, but it teaches them teamwork and things they need to be successful in any job.”
According to Cuatto, to keep the event family-friendly, the Lyric isn’t charging exorbitant prices. Ticket prices start at $29.
The BTM is offering four performances of “The Nutcracker” – Saturday, Dec. 3 and 5 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Photos with Santa and the Sugar Plum Fairy will be available during the matinee performances on both days.
The runtime is around two hours, including intermission. Tickets can be purchased here .
More information about the Ballet Theatre of Maryland's School of Classical and Contemporary Dance can be found here , or by calling the company at 410-224-5644.