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What does The Nutcracker mean to you?

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

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We all have one, our very first memory of The Nutcracker ballet. We remember it as magically today as when we first sat in the audience, amazed by what was happening on stage.

I was five years old. I’d been taking dance classes for about a year and a half when my mom, who also grew up dancing, told me we were going on a mother-daughter date to see The Nutcracker. The what? We had quite a collection of real nutcrackers around our house so I didn’t know why we had to go see more…they weren’t that exciting. But despite the confusion, I put on my fancy red satin dress, black patent leather “heels”, enormous hair bow and hopped in the car as we headed to the Wortham Theatre in downtown Houston.

I fidgeted in my seat, still completely puzzled, as we waited for the curtain to open. And when it did…I sat perfectly still with my eyes glued to the magic and dancing that was happening before me. The production was breathtaking.

I’m now twenty-two and for the past seventeen Christmases, my mom and I haven’t missed a Nutcracker season. For me The Nutcracker represents everything I love about the holiday season: family, tradition, joy, excitement, and wonder. It was not only my first ballet, but it is still my most treasured.

So what’s your most memorable Nutcracker experience? Share with us what makes this one-of-a-kind production a treasure in your eyes! Post your story in the Comments section below and see all the different memories The Nutcracker has inspired!

176 costumes, 1 beautiful display of talent

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

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There are so many elements about The Nutcracker that simply take peoples breaths away. All sit marveled by the dancing, some swoon over the set and then there are many who, like myself, gawk at the elegant and magnificent display of costumes. With a new one making its way on stage every couple of minutes throughout the show, each with such beautiful detail, I began to wonder… how do you undertake costuming a production like The Nutcracker?

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Since beginning my internship here at Ballet Austin in August, I had yet to visit the wardrobe shop. And wanting to inundate myself with all things costumes, I decided to go straight to the sources: Ballet Austin’s Wardrobe Master Alexey Korygin and his assistant Emily Cavasar. As I made my way to the costume world, I half expected to stumble upon a room covered in fabric and thread, hear sewing machines flying and see two people stitching on sequins at a mile a minute. What I discovered was an unbelievably neat work space complete with two of the nicest and most welcoming individuals!

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What I learned from this talented two-some was quite interesting. With a total of 176 company-owned costumes, the biggest challenge deals with maintenance and cleaning. Now, the end-of-production dry cleaning is relatively simple: send all 176 costumes off, they return a week later and are tucked safely away until the following season. The difficulty is keeping the intricate costumes clean between performances, especially the stark-white Snow Queen and King outfits, and removing stage make-up takes a lot more than a Tide To-Go Pen.

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Of course I had to ask, how many brand new costumes make their debut each season? The answer: one, maybe two… seriously? Alexey explained that new ones are made only when the present ones wear completely out, and with the current set about to celebrate its 15th Nutcracker with Ballet Austin, these costumes are obviously build to last and have an ability to stay beautiful!

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Alexey and Emily went on to describe where the real work lies – refurbishing, rebuilding, and fixing all 176 costumes. It’s a meticulous process that begins over the summer; the team spends five to six weeks figuring out how much maintenance each costume will require and the actual fixing begins then as well. About a month and a half before the December opening night, alterations and individual fittings commence and those keep the staff plenty busy!

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After gaining this unique insight into the world of Nutcracker costumes, I can hardly wait to watch as they grace the stage with their presence and stun audiences with their beauty.

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Dancing the role of Sugar Plum Fairy is truly a “dream come true”

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Aara Krumpe performs as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.

All little girls dream of dancing in her shoes. They’ve watched as she enters ever so gracefully onto the stage, they’ve sat enthralled during her pas de deux with the dangerously handsome prince, and they’ve all left saying “that’s what I want to be when I grow up.”

I remember being four years old, leaving my first production of The Nutcracker, and thinking the exact same thing. Who hasn’t dreamed of dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy at some point in their lives? It’s the role of a lifetime that every young prima ballerina aspires to be and for Ballet Austin’s Ashley Lynn Gilfiz and Aara Krumpe, starring in this years’ production of The Nutcracker as the Sugar Plum Fairy is “a dream come true.”

What’s your history performing The Nutcracker?

ALG: I was thirteen when I did my first Nutcracker back at home in Chicago and I was a Soldier. I was kind of just getting started in a pre-professional program, so, I was a little behind; I wasn’t ready to do pointe work. Since I’ve been dancing at Ballet Austin I’ve done Snow Queen, and Arabian, and Sugar Plum Fairy.

AK: My first Nutcracker was when I was ten in Corpus Christi, Texas with the Corpus Christi Concert Ballet and I was a Party Girl… I was actually here the season that Stephen choreographed this production of The Nutcracker, so I was an original member of the Snow Corps and the Waltz of the Flower Corps.

Ashley Lynn Gilfix performs as the Snow Queen in The Nutcracker.

Explain the significance of The Nutcracker in a dancer’s career.

ALG: It’s an opportunity to come back to something every year and you can look at it in two ways: you can look at it as, you know, over and over, or you can look as it as here’s my opportunity to come back to something that I’ve done a years worth of work in between and where am I this year and what can I add and what can I bring to the stage this time?

AK: I personally love The Nutcracker! It’s just nice to have something in your season that you do every year and this is the production where we do the most number of shows and it’s really an opportunity as an artist to improve technically from season to season and to improve your artistry.

What does it mean to you to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker?

ALG: It’s a dream come true really. I think the first ballet I ever saw was The Nutcracker when I was little and I was already dancing at the time but not seriously. And I was always really inspired when we would come home from seeing The Nutcracker. And that was one of the things that made me really consider being a dancer.

AK: It’s a very special honor when you’ve reached that point in your career as a professional dancer to dance that roll and fulfill your dreams; it’s a very nice, special moment.

These are only excerpts from the interviews we conducted with Aara and Ashley so stay tuned to our blog to see the full video!

Ballet Austin ready for its’ 12th Mills Nutcracker

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

It was 1999 and Ballet Austin was ready to open its 37th production of The Nutcracker. But what the audience was in store for was not the same production of The Nutcracker they’d seen for years and years. There was a new Artistic Director in town, and on November 14 of that year, Ballet Austin would premiere his original choreography for The Nutcracker, the same timeless choreography that we still perform to this day.

I may be a little biased, but as I peek in on rehearsals, I continually find myself mesmerized by Artistic Director Stephen Mills’ choreography. There is such eloquence, grace, and vitality in his movement. And his original choreography for The Nutcracker is no exception. He has retained all the classic elements of this wonderful production while infusing it with his unique artistic vision. It’s what makes our production of The Nutcracker unique and it’s what makes it Austin’s holiday tradition.

Click here for more information about Ballet Austin’s production of The Nutcracker.

Mother Ginger Contest

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

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Every year as our annual production of The Nutcracker approaches, Ballet Austin is always abuzz with who will be cast as Clara, the Snow Queen, Cavalier, and the Sugar Plum Fairy among others. But one particular character that always attracts wide attention throughout Austin is that of the beloved Mother Ginger.

In the spirit of keeping Ballet Austin’s production of The Nutcracker unique to Austin, the Mother Ginger role has historically been filled with local Austin ‘celebrities’. We have been fortunate to have such guests as the late Governor Ann Richards, Lance Armstrong, Luci Baines Johnson, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Michael Dell, Joe Sears, Kinky Friedman, Maestro Peter Bay, and many more. All have sat atop the 8-foot high dress and sported the entertainingly oversized costume, complete with a showy head dress and extravagant make-up.

But this year, we’ve decided to make our production of The Nutcracker a little more special by introducing a contest to ‘fill the dress’! We’ve decided to ask YOU to nominate your favorite Austinite via an online contest that will recognize an outstanding community leader by awarding them the role of a lifetime.

We are looking for the most respected, adored, influential, caring and/or generous community leader in the city to play the role of Mother Ginger for the closing performance of The Nutcracker on December 23!

Know someone who deserves recognition? Visit www.balletaustin.org/motherginger before November 1 to nominate them today!

 
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