Like candy bars, there are many, many different versions of “The Nutcracker” ballet. There’s the Great Russian Nutcracker and The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker created by Debbie Allen. There’s even a burlesque Nutcracker, produced by Seattle-based company The Triple Door.
But for those looking for the most classic (and clothed) “Nutcracker,” there is the version by legendary choreographer George Balanchine, which is being performed by the Alabama Ballet on Sunday, Dec. 4, in Anniston, presented by Knox Concerts.
The company is one of only eight in the world that has been licensed by The Balanchine Trust to perform the show. Getting to that status required way more than filling out paperwork.
“The process with any Balanchine work is that you audition, in many respects,” said Tracey Alvey, artistic director of the Alabama Ballet. “You request that you would like to do the ballet, then they ask for materials: DVDs, video. They want to make sure you’re basically good enough to do their pieces. And then you either have a refusal or they’ll say yes.”
The company has been performing Balanchine’s work for going on 13 years, and renews their right to perform the piece every other year. A representative from The Balanchine Trust also visits every year “to put an eye on the ballet, to make sure we are maintaining the integrity of the piece,” Alvey said.
From the choreography to the costuming to the staging, there is much rigor and detail involved in the show. That challenge is part of what makes this story such a hallmark of the holidays, Alvey said.
“It is a Christmas story, and a Christmas tradition that is loved by so many. I believe you don’t have to be a ballet fan to come to ‘The Nutcracker’ and enjoy the message,” she said.
Alvey, who has been with the company for 12 years, also notes that this production uses children in the show, as opposed to adults in the roles.
“Children are important to us and important to this production, and what better way to celebrate childhood than to participate in a production like this?” she said, adding that her most favorite performances are shows for elementary school kids.
“You really don’t appreciate the whole production until you’re sitting in an audience full of children. They love the sort of things that you had forgotten were funny. They appreciate the production at a whole different level – a much more intimate level.”
Ballet exposure doesn’t have to be limited to the holidays – or to being under the age of 13. “I would always encourage people to give the arts a chance. If you enjoy ‘Nutcracker,’ chances are you’re going to enjoy something else that we bring,” Alvey said.
To that end, the Alabama Ballet will be back in town in March, when it will perform the classic romantic ballet “Giselle” at the Oxford Performing Arts Center.
Erin Williams is a freelance writer for The Anniston Star.