Local Dancers Join American Midwest Ballet Company for Performances November 30 - December 1
The tale of a little girl at Christmas, her toy nutcracker and their adventure into a kingdom of sweets has become a family tradition for so many during the holiday season. This well-known story of The Nutcracker connects with all ages, filling imaginations with visions of parties, mice, candies, and flowers.
A family won’t have to go far to enter this world filled with Christmas magic, snowflakes, sweets, and sugar plum fairies. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet will come alive for audiences at the Sami Center in Spirit Lake on November 30 – December 1.
“It’s a magical show to attend and a beautiful opportunity for youth to dance alongside a professional ballet company,” said Dawn Fisher, Iowa Great Lakes Nutcracker Chair. “It is an experience they will remember forever. Even now, it’s still fun to hear the kids talk about ‘when I was an angel, an elf, or a soldier.’ It’s such a magical experience and the perfect family ballet.”
This will be the fifth performance of The Nutcracker in the Iowa Great Lakes area, as American Midwest Ballet Company (AMB) partners with Iowa Great Lakes Nutcracker to produce the professional experience.
“The Company will travel to Spirit Lake to collaborate with Dawn Fisher and the community to present this tradition,” said Matthew Lovegood, AMB’s Ballet Master, Choreographer, and Dancer. “It was one of our first productions nine years ago, and everyone is so welcoming and inspiring—it really feels like home for us!”
Dream of The Nutcracker
The dream of The Nutcracker came up in discussions as part of the original Friends of the Sami Center Board. They were looking for groups to bring to the Iowa Great Lakes Area and The Nutcracker ballet was one of the ideas.
Fisher was a part of the board, and she researched which ballet companies performed and toured with The Nutcracker within the Midwest, narrowing it down to the Minnesota Ballet and Ballet Nebraska, now AMB.
“Ballet Nebraska was the best fit for us,” she said. “I presented it to the board and they were excited to bring it to the area.”
In 2010, the first performance of The Nutcracker took place on the Sami Stage. Since then, it has taken place every other year.
Iowa Great Lakes Nutcracker
When the Friends of the Sami Center Board dissolved, Fisher felt The Nutcracker was vital to the community and wanted to keep the tradition alive. In 2014, the non-profit organization Iowa Great Lakes Nutcracker was created, enabling youth dancers from around the region the continued opportunity to dance with a professional ballet company.
“It is a great tradition for the community and the kids,” Fisher said. “I also think it makes it special by doing it every other Christmas season. The students grow a little more and it allows them to experience different parts.”
Members of the Iowa Great Lakes Nutcracker Board are Kathy Faye, Dawn Fisher, Gary Heady, Jr., and Tracy Johnson.
For the 2018 production, AMB conducted youth auditions October 26-28 for local ballet dancers between the ages of 7-18. Lovegood and two other professional company dancers conducted the auditions and staging process for 87 youth from around the region.
They separate the boys and girls into three age categories on the day of auditions, looking to see how quickly dancers pick up choreography and understand the different steps needed for certain parts.
“Youth auditions for The Nutcracker are very important. We need to see which dancers are a better fit for certain parts,” Lovegood said. “For instance, the role of the Baby Mouse needs to be smiley and alert, while Fritz is energetic but mischievous and needs to be able to express frustration and annoyance through the choreography. The elf needs to be able to do a properly executed cartwheel.”
On the following day, the parts are released and AMB works with each group over the audition weekend. The youth dancers then work on their parts over the next month. AMB returns at the end of November, with the 27-member ballet company and everything needed for performance week.
“Young dancers love being a part of the show working alongside the professionals,” Lovegood said. “Many young dancers (such as myself when I was about 9), get the ‘dancing bug’ from being in a Nutcracker production. Children in general are often introduced to ballet through The Nutcracker, which is a relatable, familiar story and music.”
Fisher agrees as she watches many of these youth dancers blossom and transform into better dancers after the production.
“It affects them afterwards, where they work harder and become a little more goal-oriented,” she said. “They just had this amazing opportunity to perform alongside the professionals. They also see how a dancer doesn’t have to be in New York or Los Angeles to be in a company. AMB becomes a great example to our youth dancers in the area.”
The beauty of The Nutcracker is how Tchaikovsky’s music intertwines the story of a little girl and her adventures through charming, Christmas time themes.
The story is told through AMB’s 27 professional ballet dancers who take the stage in leading roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow King, Clara’s Mother, Drosselmeier, and others. The youth that are casted also dance several important characters in the show, such as the heroine, Clara, the Angels in Act 2, Butterflies in the Waltz of the Flowers, and many others.
“I love the whole ballet, but my favorite scene would be the Snow Scene,” Lovegood said. “The music is so beautiful, as well as the setting and costumes are gorgeous. My favorite role that I’m dancing in the show this year is the Thistle, who dances with the Dew Drop Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers.”
Every ballet company in the world adds little twists and turns to The Nutcracker. AMB’s production is no different, and they often change it from year to year. Past produc
Spirit Lake have included new twists to the Spanish Dance or the Cake and Bakers’ scene. This year, AMB’s Director and Choreographer Erika Overturff has re-choreographed the dolls from the Party Scene to include a Porcelain Dall and a pair of Harlequin Dolls.
“There is no single, definitive version of The Nutcracker,” Overturff said. “Ever since it was created in1892 for Russia's Imperial Ballet, it has been revised countless times. Today, ballet companies create their own interpretations, with no two exactly alike.”
Often the inspirations for individual dances come from unexpected sources, Overturff noted, and the ballet’s Spanish dance is a prime example. “We were out celebrating my husband’s birthday,” she said, “when we came across a large, ornate Spanish-style fan lying on the sidewalk. There was nobody nearby who might have dropped it, and no clue how it had gotten there. I picked it up, opened it, and swirled it around a bit — and suddenly I had a vision of six female dancers turning and swirling with Spanish fans in an array of colors. That became my concept for the scene.”
Part of the beauty of the AMB production is The Nutcracker’s costumes and scenery. Deborah Overturff and Thom J. Peterson designed all of the costumes specifically for this production. They are all extravagant and beautiful. The scene design is very innovative, such as Clara’s throne, as the Arabian princess enters in an elephant carriage that later becomes Clara’s perch. Another exquisite piece is the 14' cake on wheels that is a part of the French scene.
More than any other ballet, The Nutcracker is about children and the wonder of childhood. For many, The Nutcracker is the first professional dance performance they will experience, whether it’s viewed from the audience or performed upon the Sami Stage. Maybe it’s the school matinee on November 30. Through it all, the story of a little girl captures the hearts of viewers, making there no need to travel several hours away for this magical professional ballet experience.
“I love the Nutcracker! Yes, there is a lot of time put in with fundraising, organizing and rehearsal but once the beginning overture starts and our kids come down the aisle with the company for the party scene, it’s just like the very first time.” Fisher said. “The kids are so happy! It’s so special and you feel their joy and excitement. At that moment, all of the time and energy was so worth it! Every second!”
Don’t miss 2018’s production of The Nutcracker in our community—make it one of your family’s traditions this Christmas season!