A take on a classic


Photo contributed by Brent Smith © Butler University 2019

The Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy have just finished the pas de deux. A pas de deux is a dance between two dancers, typically a male and female.

As the holiday season approaches, dancers know that it is time to begin rehearsals for “The Nutcracker,” and Butler Ballet is no exception. I performed in Butler Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” for five years starting in fifth grade, have attended their various performances ever since and have begun taking ballet classes with the company this year. With the wonder of the Christmas season, Butler Ballet brought a magical rendition of this classic holiday ballet.

As the curtain rose for the first act, a beautiful, elaborate set depicted the home of the von Stahlbaum family as the family put finishing touches on their decorations before friends arrived for the Christmas party. The company made good use of children from the community to play Clara and Fritz von Stahlbaum and the young guests. As each family entered, their vibrant party dresses and suits coordinated making it easier for the audience to visualize who belonged in each family.

While the dancing was flawless throughout the party scene, what truly added to the magic was the entrance of Clara and Fritz’s uncle, Drosselmeyer, who is a magical toymaker. To enhance his magical powers there were special effects of flashes of light and smoke, keeping the audience surprised at every turn. Even with his magic, Drosselmeyer was outdone by the grandmother. The grandmother was hilarious. She tried to dance but became too tired collapsing into Drosselmeyer’s arms. As drinks circled the party she had a little too much, sending her dancing crazily across the stage till she finally had to rest.

Photo contributed by Brent Smith © Butler University 2019
Two dancers perform the Waltz of the Snowflakes. The ballet features many iconic dances such as this one.

As the battle scene began and the stage was transformed, mice and toy soldiers entered from the wings and began to weave through each other in battle creating organized chaos that kept the audience on their toes. To continue with the magic set in the party scene, the battle included shiny swords, a live cannon and an onstage quick change of the Nutcracker as he turned into a prince. In the audience I could almost feel myself in battle as I followed the weaving of the lines and rooted for the toy soldiers that helped to protect Clara. When the cannon went off, it felt like a real battle and I almost forgot that I was sitting in Clowes Memorial Hall watching a ballet. 

As the stage turned into a winter wonderland, the snowflakes entered in a flurry. The dance was going smoothly, and all the dancers were in unison. Then suddenly one of the dancers fell. My heart began to race, hoping she was okay, but she was back to her feet as quickly as she went down. I knew the show would go on no matter what happened, but the fallen snowflake carried herself gracefully and never missed a beat.

Act two soon came, and the Spanish, Arabian, Russian and Chinese dances passed flawlessly. The dancers were easy to watch as they glided across the stage in the style of their country. But then Mother Ginger stole the show. 

Mother Ginger, a larger than life woman played by a man, entered the stage, and her 12 little children, the Polichinelles, filed out from underneath her dress with one young tumbler doing a series of back walkovers. The young dancers were cute and fun to watch, but you couldn’t help looking at the large woman behind them smiling and fanning herself as she bounced her large dress. She was so funny to watch, but wasn’t so distracting that she took away from the little girls galloping in front of her. The man playing Mother Ginger wasn’t afraid to be over the top, so the character really blossomed and was well portrayed. As the music ended, the Polichinelles disappeared under Mother Ginger’s skirt as quickly as they had appeared, and she was gone. 

As Clara’s time in the Land of Sweets ended, my favorite part of the show approached, the pas de deux between the Sugarplum Fairy and the Nutcracker. The dancers didn’t disappoint as series of turns and leaps were performed effortlessly and with flawless technique. As they danced together the Sugar Plum Fairy seemed to float through the air as the Nutcracker lifted her. The pairing of the dancers was extraordinary. They seemed to move as a single body as they jumped across the stage. I didn’t want the dance to end, but soon the curtain closed.

Photo contributed by Brent Smith © Butler University 2019
The girls dance to the lullaby. The boys at the party are jealous because they want the toy.

Aside from a couple minor slip ups and one fall, Butler Ballet put on an enchanting rendition of “The Nutcracker.” They made good use of all the props and sets available to them to help bring the stage to life, and their vibrant costumes and special effects only added to the magic of the professional-level performance of the traditional dances. Unfortunately the ballet is closed for the year,but I definitely recommend seeing their annual performance next December.