Holiday spirits and festivities will grace campus this weekend as 50 student dancers, faculty members and children come together to perform Andover’s community-wide rendition of the classic holiday ballet, “The Nutcracker.”
The two-act ballet in Tang Theatre will also feature dancers from the Boston Ballet, who will be playing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Inviting Boston Ballet dancers will be funded by ticket sales and is an “educational concept” for student dancers to see professional dancers up-close.
With music scores by the composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, “The Nutcracker” is directed and choreographed by Judith Wombwell, Instructor in Dance. Wombwell started the tradition of performing “The Nutcracker” in 1996.
“Our production is original because we set it in colonial Andover [instead of Russia]; I really love that aspect, and every time we [perform “The Nutcracker”] we change [the show] a little bit,” said Wombwell.
“I think ‘The Nutcracker’ really appeals to all ages… what makes it special is the fact that it’s very warm and magical, whereas other ballets such as ‘Giselle’ are more ethereal but less inviting,” said Marion Kudla ’15, who plays the role of the Snow Queen in “The Nutcracker.”
The lead role of “The Nutcracker,” Clara, will be shared by Madeline Silva ’13 and Rochelle Wilbun ’13.
The stage opens with Clara’s family and guests of all ages enjoying a Christmas party at a barn house filled with colorful Christmas lights and presents. The spirit of the holiday season heightens as cheerful little boys, led by Tyler Murphy, son of Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, in fur hats dance to lively quick-paced music. Toy soldiers and harlequin dolls also dance with rigid, toy-like movements, creating a playful atmosphere on stage.
In “The Nutcracker,” Clara receives a wooden nutcracker toy from her godfather, the magician Herr Drosselmeyer, played by Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students.
“When Clara first sees the nutcracker, she’s drawn to his face and his eyes and the character there, and she finds him really ugly but incredibly beautiful somehow on the inside. She senses that he has a noble spirit on the inside. I think it’s really fantastic,” said Wombwell.
After evil mice in red petticoats attack Clara and her nutcracker, the nutcracker is dramatically transformed from a wooden toy to a real man. Played by Adam Brody ’14, the Nutcracker Prince then unsheathes his sword and duels with King Mouse, played by Michaela Barczak ’15.
Following the battle accompanied by bursts of trumpets and drums, the nutcracker brings Clara to the Land of Snow, a world of pristine whiteness and grasceful citizens. The production then follows Clara and the Nutcracker Prince through the Land of Snow and Land of Sweets.
In order to capture an impression of magic, the technical crew of “The Nutcracker,” led by Ian Song ’13, Stage Manager of the production, has been extensively preparing for the show’s special effects and seamless transitions.
In one dramatic scene, a Christmas tree grows and lights up before the audience’s eyes.
“It’s not just a dance show. There’s so much technical work involved like the growing tree, elaborate lighting and very quick scene changes. They happen in split seconds; we suddenly go from a barn to out to the snow. Seeing all those elements go together is truly what makes it special,” said Erin Strong, Instructor and Chair in Theater and Dance, who serves as a rehearsal assistant to Wombwell for “The Nutcracker.”
In one scene, an eight-foot tall blue-haired elderly woman dressed in a large rose-patterned hoop skirt makes an appearance— the character is Mother Ginger, played by Kevin Graber, Assistant Dean of Admission.
As Mother Ginger, Graber is on stilts while faculty children hide underneath his skirt, playing the role of “bon-bons.” At one point, Graber’s skirt opens and the children, dressed in colorful one-piece suits, skip out of the skirt and entertain the audience with games.
“When [Wombwell] came to me with the notion of being Mother Ginger, I didn’t even ask what that would mean—I was just like, ‘Yes, I’m in!’ I’m significantly proud of my role. It’s definitely safe to say that it’s outside of my comfort zone,” said Graber. “I just hope that I won’t fall on any bon-bons.”
The Theatre and Dance Department received a grant from the Abbot Academy Association for funding for the Mother Ginger act, according to Song.
The Snow Queen and King, regents of the Land of Snow, are played by Kudla and Graham Johns ’14, who dance and leap surrounded by a flurry of fake snow.
“Our snow scene in particular is unbelievable. [Johns and Kudla’s] pas de deux [ballet duet] as the Snow King and Queen is just exquisite. The Boston Ballet dancers, quite frankly, will be outshined by our students this year,” said Strong.
“We have such a spectacular Snow Queen and King. Sometimes we don’t have strong enough [student] dancers to do a complete pas de deux, but this year we have a male and a female that are just right for each other,” added Wombwell.
Act Two sets a different tone for “The Nutcracker” because it presents a vibrant and lievely world filled with fantasy creatures, a stark contrast to Clara’s warm, old-fashioned barn house in colonial Andover and the chilly Land of Snow.
The stage is transformed into the Land of Sweets with treats from all over the world, including Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee and Russian candy canes, abound.
Dancers Unwana Abasi ’13, Sophie Landay ’14 and Abriana Mayer ’14 dance in brown layered skirts and characterized the chocolate. With its bold and exotic flamenco-style dance, their energetic performance integrates various dance techniques into the show.
A troupe of male Russian folk dancers, played by Jaleel Williams ’15, Johns and Brody, storm the stage and perform a fast-paced routine, doing high kicks and jumping squats known as the Trepak, one of Tchaikovsky’s signature dance moves from “The Nutcracker.”
Chinese folk dancers, led by Kana Rollett ’13, dance to the playful orchestral and piccolo tune with fans and ribbons.
One of the show’s highlights is a novel interpretation of an Arabian-style dance. Featuring David McCullough ’13 in his first ballet experience, the Arabian dance showcases a mix of classical ballet and modern ballet steps in a single dance scheme.
“My initial impulse [about being in a ballet show] was ‘No way,’ but then I thought: ‘Why not? What’s the worst that can happen? It would be fun.’ And it is; it’s a blast. My parents thought it was hilarious. When I told them I was going to be performing, they were so flabbergasted. But I think it’s important to be trying new things; it’s things like that that develop you,” said McCullough.
Clara and the Nutcracker Prince share the last dance, followed by an intricately performed ballet duet by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.
“The best part about ‘The Nutcracker’ for me is watching our students. I already know most of the faculty members who are doing it. I get to watch the students in action, how incredibly smart and talented they are and how much fun they have with each other. It gives me a window to the student life here that I normally don’t have. The Christmas spirit of ‘The Nutcracker’ combined with our community spirit, I think that’s a pretty neat combination,” said Graber.
“What’s fun is that we have so many people involved; there’s members of Andover Dance Group that have been in the dance community for a really long time, but we also have people who haven’t been dancing as much or just started dancing when they got to Andover,” said Silva.
“The Nutcracker” is open to the public and will show tonight at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m, in Tang Theatre in George Washington Hall. Tickets are available for $10 and can be purchased at the box office.