Sweets and Soldiers Wish Season’s Greetings in “The Nutcracker”

Standing high on stilts and wearing a towering blue wig, Kevin Graber, Associate Dean of Admission, enters the stage in Tang Theater, blowing kisses and waving to the audience. Playing the role of Mother Ginger, Graber suddenly pulls up the hem of his skirt, and a gaggle of young faculty children emerges from the ruffles.

Mother Ginger is one of several characters in the ballet, “The Nutcracker,” which Andover students, faculty and faculty children, as well as visiting dancers from the Boston Ballet, have performed biannually since 1996. The classic ballet, which features the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, tells the story of Clara, a young girl who receives a nutcracker doll from her mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer. Clara is then transported to a dreamy world that features snowstorms, foreign candy and a beautiful prince.

While the original ballet is set in Germany in the late 19th Century, Andover’s production takes place in Andover, Mass., during the time of the Revolutionary War. Several scenes are adapted for this change. For example, the Christmas party at which Clara receives the nutcracker doll takes place in a barn, and the costumes in the party scene reflect the typical styles of the time period.

“The new setting makes the entire show more accessible to the audience. The town of Andover has a rich history in and of itself, so it’s definitely more appropriate and approachable for the people coming to watch the show,” said Janice Cheon ’16, who plays the Snow Queen during the second two shows.

The role of Clara is played by Lizzie McGonagle ’16 for the first two shows and Olivia Berkey ’15 for the last two shows.

“Playing Clara is every little dancer’s dream. As a little girl, I remember watching ‘The Nutcracker’ and thinking, ‘I want to be her,’” said McGonagle. “Clara is the central character that creates continuity throughout the ballet. She is young and playful and showcases the ballet… through the lens of a child. I think all of us were Clara at one point, in the sense that we all dreamed fantastically imaginary dreams.”

Act I opens with Clara and her little brother in the barn, preparing for the Christmas party. Guests, played by various faculty members and faculty children, trickle in, engaging in lighthearted dancing and entertainment. Eventually, Uncle Drosselmeyer, played by Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students for Personal and Community Education, arrives and gives gifts to the children, including the nutcracker to Clara.

Later that night, Uncle Drosselmeyer brings the nutcracker to life. The living soldier, played by Jaleel Williams ’15, takes Clara on a journey through the Land of the Sweets for Act II, which follows Clara and the Nutcracker watching dancers portraying characters such as Spanish chocolate, Chinese tea and a Danish shepherdess. Presiding over the Land of the Sweets is the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, played by Dalay Parrondo and Bradley Schlagheck, soloists from the Boston Ballet.

Representing coffee in the Land of the Sweets, the Arabian dance begins with the lead dancer (Erica Nork ’16 for the first three shows and Marion Kudla ’15 for the last show) arching her back and turning slowly as four backup dancers flutter a transparent white sheet in front of her, resting it on top of her face to create a silhouette. Jack McGovern ’15 enters the stage to perform intricate partnering work with the lead dancer.

“[Arabian] adds decadence, a warm and opulent mystery [to the ballet],” wrote Nork in an email to The Phillipian. “When dancing the role, it helps me to imagine the nature of the character as a reflection of the choreography. Some descriptions that come to mind are as follows: elusive, omniscient, aloof. The Arabian dance is such an abrupt change in the overall mood in the ballet, from jovial to suddenly mysterious, and it sticks in the mind of the audience as something very different.”

Arabian, along with the scenes in Act I and the sweets in Act II, has grown to evoke the spirit of the holidays.

“I think ‘The Nutcracker’ is a holiday classic for several reasons,” said Berkey. “It’s the perfect blend of reality and fantasy. The first act of the show takes place at a holiday party that I’m sure every audience member can say resembles one they’ve attended, but the setting quickly changes to the magical Land of the Sweets, which is certainly less relatable but so fantastical… All of this, paired with beautiful sets and the totally timeless music, makes the show a classic.”

“The Nutcracker” will be performed this Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Tang Theater. Tickets may be purchased from the Theater Box Office for $10.