Atlanta Ballet’s first fresh holiday show in 2 decades
was 2 years in the making. Creators hint
that it will be brimming with surprises.
Atlanta Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” runs Dec. 8-24 at the Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.892.3303.
CURTAIN UP on the glow and oh-so-pretty snow. It’s finally time to crack open a whole new Nutcracker because, as Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin says, every generation deserves its own.
Nedvigin, a Bolshoi-trained artist, became the fourth artistic director in the company’s 89-year history two seasons ago. He last danced with San Francisco Ballet, and moved to Atlanta knowing he’d help oversee an all-new Nutcracker ballet.
Young people who grew up attending its predecessor, a storybook production staged for 23 seasons, are continuing the tradition. The old version was set against rich, jewel-toned backdrops that evoked 19th-century Russia. It blended clever comedic moments and ethereal classical ballet sequences with thrilling pas de deux.
Nedvigin’s new $3.7 million staging, choreographed by friend and Russian-born dancer Yuri Possokhov, returns to the original source material: German author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 fantasy story, “Nutcracker and Mouse King.” It places the opening Christmas Eve party scene in a small German village.
A magical uncle
With dream-versus-reality notions, along with toy soldiers and snowflakes and such, The Nutcracker opens its imagination wide to artistic invention. But its central story line often remains: a magical uncle figure brings handmade toys to children at the party. Among them is a nutcracker, which is soon broken. A young girl named Marie checks on it in the middle of the night and discovers it has come to life. The nutcracker battles a mouse king, and then turns into a prince who carries Marie off to a fantasy kingdom inhabited by dolls.
Hoffmann’s tale contained bleak, even scary elements. As a leader in the German Romantic movement, he was accustomed to writing fantasy and Gothic horror, with tales full of inanimate objects coming to life. In 1844, French writer Alexandre Dumas toned down much of the darkness in Hoffmann’s story. An all-new Nutcracker, which premiered in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, paired the lighter Dumas telling with the familiar Tchaikovsky score.
The ballet was not an immediate hit, finding success gradually and chiefly after 1954, when George Balanchine created a version for New York City Ballet. Atlanta audiences have seen that version, too, and until now the one choreographed by Possokhov predecessor John McFall. Possokhov’s ballet is unlike either of those.
“Yuri is truly a child in big-person pants,” Nedvigin says. “He has such a great sense of creativeness inside him. The dancers can prove my words. He truly becomes a child and runs and plays when he is creating. It’s amazing to watch him. We’ll be having dinner, and you will see him just sort of float away. You discover he is making steps in the air.”
Atlanta Ballet hints that its new Nut “will rival a Broadway show in terms of production firepower.” A versatile team was assembled to help make that happen:
SCENIC DESIGNER TOM PYE sometimes designs costumes as well. He received a Tony nomination for the scenic design of Broadway’s 2004 Fiddler on the Roof revival.
COSTUME DESIGNER SANDRA WOODALL has done costumes and scenery for prominent ballet companies around the world. She designed costumes for Atlanta Ballet’s Helen Pickett-choreographed Camino Real (2017). A “costume can be absolutely stunning,” Pickett says, “but it cannot take away from what the body is doing … how the body describes the story … and Sandra understands that.”
LIGHTING DESIGNER DAVID FINN did lights and scenery for Camino Real. Next for him are world premieres of The Little Prince for the National Ballet of Canada and Frankenstein for London’s Royal Ballet.
PROJECTION DESIGNER FINN ROSS did scenery for Broadway’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Frozen and Mean Girls. He won London’s Olivier Award (2012) and Broadway’s Tony Award (2014) for the scenic design of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He and his team spent nine months making the short, three-dimensional film shown during the overture.
And that’s not all. Robert Allsopp, known in theater circles for his sculptural costumes, was hired to create mice costumes and some headpieces. His work is among more than 250 costumes this Nut uses, many hand-dyed and handcrafted in the United States and three other countries.
Friends & colleagues
Possokhov and Nedvigin have known each other for 18 years. Both were San Francisco Ballet principals near the ends of their performing careers, which also is when Possokhov’s choreographic reputation began growing.
“The Nutcracker is rooted in Tchaikovsky’s music,” Possokhov says, and gives choreographers “much room for imagination.” Its magic is “its ability to bring people together — children, parents, grandparents, friends, people from all different backgrounds and various faiths.”
Atlanta Ballet calls the new production “a Nutcracker for our time,” without getting too specific. “You will lose your mind to it,” Nedvigin says, “and will forget what is outside the theater walls. You will be transported to a completely different world.”
Nedvigin and Possokhov want audiences to have a hard time discerning what is and isn’t real “but in a good way.” Almost whispering, Nedvigin says, “Oh, so many wonderful surprises. So much more is possible. One time will not be enough to see it or love it.”