By: Quinn Bryant and Frances Philippe-Auguste
After the events of the quarantine lockdown, The Nutcracker returns completely from scratch. The new take on the traditional ballet highlights the magic within our own community. The Dance and Stage Design and Production departments come together to bring this wonderful world to our stage.
“The Nutcracker”, a familiar fixture in the Baltimore School for the Arts’ calendar, is a long-lasting tradition for the holiday season throughout the dance community. It is a fanciful story, one that offers ample opportunity for interpretation, which is why BSA has had three versions of “The Nutcracker” done throughout many years.
In previous years, “The Nutcracker” has been choreographed and interpreted by Sylvester Campbell, Lisa De Ribere, and Barry Huston. This year the newest version of the “The Nutcracker” production was created by Laura Halm Hamilton and Amy Hall Garner. This version, set in Baltimore City, is about celebrating where you are, not where you wish you were.
A New Production:
“Over the years, I have tried to figure out what kind of Nutcracker I would be proud of and confident in producing,” said Dance Department Head Laura Halm Hamilton. Hamilton has created that very production by starting everything from scratch and making some significant changes. This includes all-new choreography, removed stereotypes in the iconic second act, and the addition of gender-neutral representation.
This new production is the opposite of the Berry Huston version, the last version of the production done at BSA. “I felt as though it was in some way a disservice to the community as a whole because it was a classical production so heavily weighted on the importance and respect of one technique over everything else. I didn’t think it was a good representation of the dance world our graduates would be going into,” said Hamilton.
This new version, instead, celebrates the community; “Instead of being in a world that Clara aspires to get and escape to, the second act depicts Aunt Dee bringing to life the neighborhood in which our protagonist lives, Baltimore City. Showing her that the magic exists within her city and her neighborhood instead of, you can only find beauty and fantasy if you travel somewhere else.” said Hamilton.
Not only is the setting different in this version, so is the choreography. Amy Hall Garner is an internationally known choreographer who has been commissioned by schools such as The Juilliard School, Barnard College, and the Columbia Ballet Collaborative, to name a few. She coached Beyoncé for her Mrs. Carter world tour and has many more theatrical choreography credits. Hamilton said, “We are really, really lucky that we can even get her here because she is creating works for some of the best companies in the country.”
Together, Garner and Hamilton were able to take the choreography for “The Nutcracker” and redefine it into something different. As said by Junior Dancer Cassidy Reigel, “unlike the traditional Nutcracker that is all on pointe, our version has more modern and contemporary elements.” With modernized choreography, Hamilton and Garner were also able to create sections to celebrate dancers’ individual and collective strengths.
The rehearsals for “The Nutcracker” are intense and require a large time commitment. “You start day one and you don’t stop until December 18th,” said Hamilton. Senior Dancer Keon Wagstaff shared that dancers have rehearsal every day after school and on Saturdays.
“In the beginning, rehearsal was very spaced out with small specific groups to allow everyone to learn their part, but as we get closer to opening and everyone gets more comfortable with their role, rehearsals become compact and put together.”
During rehearsal dancers are driven and strive for perfection. There are multiple casts in each rehearsal, and the rehearsal in itself, according to Junior Dancer Kyleigh Johnson, is never really set in stone. But no dancer is left on the sideline relaxing; dancers are always practicing while simultaneously correcting themselves in the mirrors.
“We are expected to know and be ready to do the corrections she already gave, so she doesn’t repeat them. We must always be attentive,” said Reigel.
It doesn’t matter how much they are sweating or how late it may be, these dancers will repeat the move five more times to get it right because it is expected of them.
Stage Design and Production
A major part of the production of “The Nutcracker” that may be overlooked is the work of the stage design and production students. Stage production is in charge of all the visual aspects of the ballet. Like the dancers, they have a short amount of time to prepare for the show.
With this new approach of “The Nutcracker”, they have a lot of work that they have to get done. Not only do they have to adapt for the reimagined production, they also have to adjust after not being in school due to quarantine. This year’s students and teachers began meeting on Zoom back in April in preparation for this year’s production.
One of the main elements of “The Nutcracker” besides the dancing are the costumes. This year all of the dancers in the dance department are going to be in the production. This adds more work to the stage production students because they will need to make more costumes.
Senior SDP member, Ella Voos, is the creative mind behind the costume for Aunt Dee, a new strong female lead for “The Nutcracker”. The costume is made completely from scratch but is based on the original Uncle Drosselmeyer’s costume. Aunt Dee has a cape vest that serves the same purpose as the Uncle Drosselmeyer cape, but has some newer twists.
Senior SDP member, Silvana Gerardo, worked on the lemon sticks costumes for the TWIGS dancers; “it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.” – Hamilton. There was a lot of trial and error for this costume. She needed to find the correct contrast for the red and yellow colors and make sure the compositions and the proportions worked together.
Senior SDP member, Tracey Molina, is behind the innovative idea for the snow drape costumes. She wanted them to be flowy and have the technical appearance of snow, the best material that gave her those results were trash bags. Contrary to popular belief the costumes will not resemble trash bags.
“The costumes will not look like trash bags, they will be reimagined and very different”, said Molina.
Another major aspect of “The Nutcracker” is the lighting. Junior SDP member, Samuel Greco, explained everything that has to be done, especially coming back from quarantine. They have to first make sure that all the lights are working properly. This means that they have to test each individual light and if it is not working they have to find the source. Most of the issues come from the equipment being unplugged because no one was in the building due to Covid.
This year SDP is getting the help of BSA alumnus Bernard Johnson, who currently is the producing director for Single Carrot Theatre here in Baltimore. To help with the Baltimore setting, the brick wall behind the white screen of the stage is being used as a backdrop. This wall is to be lighted, so Johnson came up with the idea of installing a new row of lights on the floor in front of the wall.
SDP works very hard to help make sure that their fellow classmates in the dance department look their best for their audiences, whether it’s costumes or lighting. “The Nutcracker” production is a partnership between these two departments. Each year the two bring together a production that our community and city can gravitate toward.
As Hamilton says so passionately, “the people on the stage look like the people in the audience. There’s representation, there is aspiration, There’s oh my goodness those people look like me, I can do it. And that is the most important aspect of bringing arts to young people.”
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