By GARY DEMUTH
For Salina Symphony
More than 70 local and area youth dancers have been twirling, kicking and leaping nearly every weekend since September to present a memorable holiday gift to the Salina community.
These dancers, accompanied by a live symphonic orchestra, are preparing to perform the classic holiday-themed ballet The Nutcracker.
Whether playing dancing mice, billowing snowflakes or marching nutcrackers, the dedication and work ethic of the dancers have been impressive, said Tamara Howe of Ballet Salina, a division of the Tamara Howe School of Dance, a downtown Salina facility where dancers have been rehearsing nearly every Saturday.
“It’s a huge commitment to be here every week, but all of them love to rehearse,” she said. “I often tell them how fortunate they are to be able to perform with a live orchestra.”
The Salina Symphony and Ballet Salina will present Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker for two performances at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 and 4 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts, 151 S. Santa Fe.
Ballet Salina and the Salina Symphony first performed The Nutcracker in the winter of 2019, but it was not part of the symphony’s mainstage season. This season, The Nutcracker will replace the symphony’s traditional Christmas Festival concert, said Adrienne Allen, executive director of the Salina Symphony.
“We are delighted to partner with Ballet Salina to present The Nutcracker this year,” Allen said. “With the success of our previous production, we made the decision to present The Nutcracker on a four-year rotation. We look forward to returning to our Christmas Festival tradition next year.”
Allen said The Nutcracker is a beloved holiday show for the entire family.
“The production will feature professional guest artists and talented local dancers in addition to live music from our Salina Symphony musicians,” she said. “It will be the perfect complement to our season of New Beginnings.”
Guest artists featured
The cast of The Nutcracker includes not only more than 70 local youth dancers, but nearly a dozen adults and a children’s chorus.
“There are several whole families involved, and some parents who did the show in 2019 (playing partygoers) wanted to do it again,” said Howe, who is choreographing the ballet with Ballet Salina artistic director Mara Klenda, based on the original choreography created by Marius Petipa.
Two professional guest artists from Ballet Memphis also will have featured parts in the show, performing two of the more challenging roles in the show: Oscar Fernandez will dance the part of the Cavalier and Cecily Khuner will play the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“They’ll fly in for the weekend, and they’ll also do a master class for the students,” Howe said.
Dancers for the production represent three local studios: Tamara Howe School of Dance, Center for Theatre Arts and Della’s Dance Studio as well as ArtisTree in Hutchinson.
Many of this year’s dancers were in the 2019 cast, and several high school seniors are playing bigger roles in this production.
“We have five seniors this year, so I’ve showcased them in special parts,” she said. “It’s nice having so many older dancers to play the roles.”
Having the stage filled with dancers is only part of the pleasure of watching “The Nutcracker.” There also are colorful sets, expressive lighting and especially gorgeous, lavish costumes, Howe said.
“We’ve built up quite a costume inventory, and each year we add to it,” she said. “Much of the costuming has been funded by Dane Hansen Foundation grants, which we are so grateful for.”
Inspired by fairy tale
The ballet adaptation of The Nutcracker was inspired by a book titled The Story of the Nutcracker by Alexandre Dumas, which itself was an adaptation of the dark fairy tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” written by E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816.
The original ballet, created by Marius Petipa and Len Inavov with original music by the famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892. Since then, the Christmas-themed ballet has become a perennial holiday classic performed throughout the world.
“It’s a ballet that appeals to all ages,” Howe said. “Everything is laid out simply, so it’s easy to follow. Children will be enamored by the lights and sound and oversized characters, from mice to gingersnaps.
“It’s the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit. By the time you leave, you’ll be ready for Christmas.”
Tickets for The Nutcracker are $29 or $39 for adults and $19 for students/children ages three and up and may be purchased at the Stiefel Theatre box office, by calling (785) 827-1998 or online at www.salinasymphony.org.