One of Gadsden’s fall traditions is to come indoors.
The Downtown Dance Conservatory presents “The Nutcracker Princess” November 18-20 at the Wallace Hall Fine Arts Center on the Wallace Drive campus of Gadsden State Community College.
The dance group first staged Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s classic work in 2010, missing only a few years since then, according to DDC artistic director Linze Rickles McRae.
Ironically, these were not the years of the COVID-19 pandemic; the DDC performed the ballet outdoors, at the Mort Glosser Amphitheater, in 2020 and 2021. This nod to security, however, created a host of other problems.
“My husband, my staff and I had to bring everything over there,” McRae said. “We had no fly, we had to rearrange the choreography, we had to deal with the weather and we had to wire the stairs for electricity. It was a huge ordeal
“It’s beautiful when it works, but I don’t think people realize how much work it takes to produce something of this magnitude,” she said.
The return to Wallace Hall will allow the DDC to use sets and stage costumes that weren’t possible in outside productions, McRae said.
The DDC has been involved in various ‘Nutcracker’ productions, including ‘Le Casse Noix Moderne: The Modern Nutcracker’, a two-year collaboration with the Etowah Youth Orchestras that had a sold-out production in New York. He was nominated for the Goldstar Nutcracker Award as one of the 50 most original “Nutcrackers” in the country.
And for two seasons, the SDC hosted, participated in and staged the “Great Russian Nutcracker” with the Moscow Ballet.
“The community agreed that with the quality of ballet students we are able to showcase, we could produce our very own locally grown ‘Nutcracker’ with all the magic and glamor of the greatest productions made across the country. “McRae said.
Thus, she referenced Marius Petipa’s original choreography and ETA Hoffman’s 1816 short story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, which inspired the ballet, creating her own version of “The Nutcracker Hazelnut”. It emphasizes the Russian flair of the work and revisits the origin of the tradition.
“There have been changes over the years,” McRae said. “We have a new set up this year, so we’re happy to be able to bring back sets that we weren’t able to use outside.”
The plot, taken from a press release about the ballet:
“The story begins with a Christmas Eve gathering at Stahlbaum House. Marie and her little sister, Masha, are enjoying the evening’s festivities when their mysterious godmother, Madame Drosselmeyer, arrives. As a famous toy maker, she brings her matryoshka dolls, her shepherdess dolls and her little lamb doll to dance for all the children at the party.
“Marie receives the most beautiful of dolls, a Nutcracker Princess. As the party gets late and the guests leave, Marie falls asleep under the tree with her beloved doll. She wakes up at the chime of midnight to find the evil Spider Queen, Evilla Baba Yaga, and her army of spiders circling the room. She looks around to see that the room has grown and is now the size of her toys.
“Her brave Nutcracker Princess comes to life and a battle ensues, as the Princess defeats the Spider Queen. She takes Mary to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, Queen of Candy Land. Mary is greeted by icy gusts to find yourself in a magical land where confectionery delights from all over the world join the dance in celebration.
McRae said this year’s cast includes 185 young dancers. DDC high school students, soloists and corps de ballet, have been playing the leading roles and have been practicing since September. Dancers in grades 1-5 audition for roles in the youth cast.
Performances are at 6 p.m. on November 18 and 19 and at 2 p.m. on November 20.
Tickets this year are general admission and cost $20. They are available at www.culturalarts.com/boxoffice.
It’s DDC 20e training year for young dancers; McRae said it had about 500 students.
For more information about the group and its programs, visit www.artsculturels.org.