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Clara’s on her toes for 60th anniversary of ‘Nutcracker’

By Becky Cairns, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Nov 20, 2015
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Ballet West presents its holiday classic, "The Nutcracker," at Weber State University in Ogden on Nov. 27 and 28.

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"The Nutcracker," which is celebrating its 60th anniversary with Ballet West, plays at Weber State University in Ogden on Nov. 27 and 28.

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"The Nutcracker," which is celebrating its 60th anniversary with Ballet West, plays at Weber State University in Ogden on Nov. 27 and 28.

OGDEN — The Sugar Plum Fairy has been twirling about on her toes for 60 Christmases now.

Likewise for the dancing bear and wind-up doll, and for Mother Buffoon, scooting those adorable little buffoons under her enormous skirt.

Just call it the miracle of “The Nutcracker,” a holiday tradition six decades strong for Utah’s Ballet West.

It seems like no matter how many times audiences watch this tale of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, the story never grows old.

“There’s always something new that you may not have seen before because it’s so rich and visually stunning,” said Adam Sklute, artistic director for Ballet West.

“The Nutcracker” — which plays at Weber State University Nov. 27 and 28 — is a ballet phenomenon born right here in Northern Utah, where the three dancing Christensen brothers, Willam, Harold and Lew, grew up in Brigham City.

Willam Christensen created the first original full-length production of “The Nutcracker” in the United States back in 1944, when he was director of the San Francisco Ballet Company.

Later, when Christensen returned to his home state to ultimately found Ballet West, he debuted the holiday tale in 1955 for Utah audiences.

“It’s one of the longest running productions — definitely in America, and possibly the world,” Sklute said.

What keeps this ballet by the late “Mr. C,” as he was affectionately known, so popular?


 PREVIEW

• WHAT: Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker”

• WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 27 and 28, and 2 p.m. Nov. 28

• WHERE: Browning Center Austad Auditorium, 3848 Harrison Blvd., Ogden

• ADMISSION: $14-$39. 801-399-9214, www.symphonyballet.org


There’s comedy, action and fun for the children, Sklute said, and beautiful, athletic, inspiring dance for the adults.

“What Mr. Christensen did was he let the music and the libretto (storyline) speak for itself,” Sklute said of Tchaikovsky’s famous musical score and the tale based on an E.T.A. Hoffmann story.

The choreography of this “Nutcracker” is held dear by its current artistic director.

“Mr. C’s version is a classic and I really have tried to respect the tradition of it very much,” Sklute said.

However, he added Christensen did “tinker” with his ballet every year, so there are many variations in the show that Sklute said he can work with.

“I never change anything that is out of keeping (with that vision),” he said.

• See a number from Ballet West’s 1955 version of “The Nutcracker”; story continues below video. 

Last year, a new twist was made on the Chinese dance, taken from a version done by Willam’s brother Lew, also a director of the San Francisco Ballet. The traditional Chinese dragon dance is now incorporated into the number in the second act.

“That makes it quite charming and wonderful, and a marvelous celebration of Chinese culture,” Sklute said.

In addition to its long-running tradition with Ballet West, “The Nutcracker” has an equally established history in Ogden.

The holiday ballet has been presented here since 1962, when it played at Ogden High School, said Sharon Macfarlane, executive director of the sponsoring Ogden Symphony Ballet Association.

“There are families, they’re working on the third generation of bringing them to this — it’s a family tradition,” she said.

Young dancers from ballet schools in the Top of Utah and beyond are also featured in Ballet West’s four different casts of children. For some children or teens, dancing in “The Nutcracker” may be the first step to a career in ballet, Sklute said.

 

The Weber State University show is typically planned for Thanksgiving weekend, before Ballet West begins its month-long run of the production at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, Macfarlane said.

“It’s a good holiday thing, to get the holiday spirit, if you don’t have it before then,” Macfarlane said.

Did you know? Some amazing “Nutcracker” facts

• More than 200 jewels decorate the Sugar Plum Fairy’s tutu.

• If all the plastic snow used in “The Nutcracker” entire run — 100 pounds per show — fell at once, it would be four feet deep on stage.

• 110 pounds of dry ice is used in each snow scene.

• Each tutu contains 16 yards of net and takes 40 hours to sew.

• All the net in ”The Nutcracker” tutus would stretch the length of six football fields.

• Moving the show’s set to Weber State University takes four semi trucks.

Source: Ballet West

Although there are many versions of “The Nutcracker” presented by different groups in Utah, one noteworthy thing about the Ballet West show is its professional caliber, said Melissa Seamons, marketing director for the Ogden Symphony Ballet Association.

“They’re professional dancers; they’re prima ballerinas,” she said. “It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level as a dancer.”

“The Nutcracker” presented at Weber State is the exact same production that plays on the Capitol Theatre stage, she said, so, “You get this really great holiday experience right in your own hometown.”

Ironically, Sklute — who now directs Willam’s “Nutcracker” — grew up in San Francisco, watching Lew Christensen’s version of the ballet. Under Sklute’s tenure at Ballet West, the company has performed “The Nutcracker” twice to sold-out crowds at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

The artistic director said Willam Christensen and his brothers carved out a legendary spot for themselves in the ballet world.

And the 60-year history of Ballet West’s “Nutcracker” is “a testament to how wonderful the production is,” Sklute said. “If it weren’t good,” he quipped, “we’d be fixing it and changing it.”

Contact reporter Becky Cairns at 801-625-4276 or bcairns@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @bccairns or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SEbeckycairns.

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