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Saint Louis Ballet's "The Nutcracker"

Saint Louis Ballet will present 11 performances of "The Nutcracker" Dec. 15-23 at the Touhill. | photo by Pratt Kreidich courtesy Saint Louis Ballet (click for larger version)

November 29, 2017
Saint Louis Ballet, the region's only professional ballet company, will soon present 11 performances of "The Nutcracker" for St. Louis audiences. From Dec. 15 to 23, they'll be hosted on the main stage of the University of Missouri-St. Louis' Touhill Performing Arts Center in varying evening performances (7:30 p.m.) and matinees (2:30 p.m.).

Imagine seeing the original Nutcracker ballet for the first time. On Dec. 18, 1892, you would be bundled in furs watching the Imperial Ballet company at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. During the Soviet era the company was known as the Kirov Ballet in the same city, then called Leningrad. Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov choreographed the first version, but choreographers through the ages have taken a turn at their own interpretations.

What has not changed is the glorious music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, music that you would have heard for the first time that night, with its high-tinkling celesta music for the Sugar Plum Fairy. Tchaikovsky kept the newly-invented French instrument a secret to surprise the Russian audience of the time.

Gavin Plumley, a classical music blogger on England's Royal Opera House website, said, "Its (the celesta's) high, bell-like sonority was doubtless what led Mustel to dub his new invention the céleste (heavenly)."

Tchaikovsky, he said, heard the instrument in Paris in summer 1891, and also wanted the secret kept from rival composers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. After the death of Tchaikovsky's sister Sasha in spring of the same year, Plumley suggests Clara and the supernatural Sugar Plum Fairy may well have been a tribute to his sister, perfectly captured in such a heavenly sound.

The story too has remained faithful to Alexandre Dumas' "The Nutcracker," a version of E.T.A. Hoffman's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."

| photo by Pratt Kreidich courtesy Saint Louis Ballet (click for larger version)

Saint Louis Ballet's "The Nutcracker"

An interesting note is that every year a new generation of little dance and theater lovers experience that same magic for the first time. Perhaps some adults, tagging along with the little ones, enjoy their first experience too. They can boost the sparkle in those little eyes by coming early to the Saint Louis Ballet matinee on Dec. 16 or 17 for a Sugar Plum Fairy Luncheon at 12:30 p.m.

What was spectacle in 1892 has been elevated by Saint Louis Ballet for our times, thanks to spectacular lighting and set design that even includes smoke and pyrotechnics. Each year new effects and choreography by the company's director and former New York City Ballet dancer Gen Horiuchi keep the work fresh for dancers and audiences alike. Horiuchi learned from the best, performing over 13 years in the legendary George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" for the NYC Ballet.

Three talented Saint Louis Ballet casts alternate in the leads. The Sugarplum Fairy will be danced by Lauren Lane, Amy Herchenroether and Lori Wilson. Her Cavalier will be danced by Gregory Tyndall, Elliott Geolat and Michael McGonegal. The role of the Snow Queen goes to Kate Rouzer, Tiffany Mori and Audrey Honert, while the Snow Cavalier goes to Matthew Rusk, Mark David Bloodgood and Elliott Geolat. The Dewdrop Fairy will be danced by Tiffany Mori, Lori Wilson and Amy Herchenroether.

These performances will feature over 25 professional dancers along with 125 Saint Louis Ballet School students between ages 8 and 20. Clara, a feature role in the performance, is also performed by Saint Louis Ballet School students Logan Leve and Lauren Renner along with her Prince, Michael Harp and Charlie Cronenwett. Other roles are Party Children, Mice, Soldiers and Snowflakes in Act I, and Angels, Mother Ginger's Polichinelles and Flowers in Act II.

Which St. Louis dancers may someday reach the heights of dancers trained at the Imperial Ballet School, such as Anna Pavlova,Vaslav Nijinsky and George Balanchine? Or later artists such as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov?

Today the school is named after its great teacher, the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. Dancer and teacher Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951), formulated the teaching of the French-born Marius Petipa's romantic era classical ballet, merging it with the more athletic and virtuosic Italian Cecchetti technique.

Ballet companies nationwide earn their largest percentage of income from these holiday concerts. Support the brilliant gift to our city called Saint Louis Ballet. And enjoy the glitter of the season as you do it! Tickets are available online at touhill.org, by phone at 314-516-4949, or at the Touhill Box Office.

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