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Nutcracker Season 2013 dances in today on tiny pink slippers, ready with the magic of a timeless story set on a bright and colorful stage, performed to one of the most beloved musical scores ever.
Like so many other Christmas traditions, this is all about honoring the inner child.
The E.T.A. Hoffman tale conjures wonderful characters: the Nutcracker, the Rat King, Snow Queen, Sugar Plum Fairy, Mother Ginger, and, of course, Clara and her bratty brother, Fritz.
It offers Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s wondrous score — how could it have been reviled at its 1892 premiere? — a challenge for the best musicians and a treat for every ear.
Toledo has had live Nutcrackers since the 1940s, thanks to Marie Bollinger Vogt, founder of the Toledo Ballet.
Now, it has multiple versions, as do many American cities; about 120 will present the ballet this season.
Like other aspects of the Christmas holiday, Nutcracker activity started even earlier this year. Productions offer new elements, approaches, or bigger do-overs.
For example, this year the Toledo Ballet will debut its new Act I set, a vision of a landmark known and beloved to thousands of local residents: Wildwood Preserve Metropark’s stately Manor House.
“The wonderful thing about Nutcracker is that it is a universal tale of the magic of childhood,” explains Toledo Ballet executive director Mari Davies. “So we decided that Clara doesn’t have to live in Germany. We are bringing her home and moving her into the Manor House, where she and her family will live for the next 30 to 40 years!”
So forget the turreted castle in the Black Forest. This year, the mythical Stahlbaum family will come to life in the former Stranleigh, once the Stranahan family’s manse and today a popular part of a visit to Wildwood.
It’s part of a $180,000 overhaul of the set started four years ago, when the company commissioned Cincinnati stage designer Thomas Umfrid for a total redesign.
The Act II set for Land of the Sweets came in 2010. Then fund-raising began in earnest.
The William R. Foster Family Fund managed by the Toledo Community Foundation chipped in $50,000 toward the new Act I backdrop. The Anderson Fund also contributed, as did other local groups.
To raise the last $10,000, the ballet turned to the public directly via fund-raising Web site Kickstarter and exceeded its goal. Meanwhile, Toledo Ballet board president-elect James Hill was overseeing the application of gallons of paint to enormous sheets of canvas.
The result will comprise both the neo-Classical brick facade of the Manor House plus a wooded setting around a pond for the second scene of Act I.
In three performances, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 14 and 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Stranahan Theater, the entire new set will be revealed as the Claras, who alternate performances, are joined on stage by a huge cast.
Toledo Ballet School director Lisa Mayer Lang has set the production, which was choreographed by Gen Horiuchi. The Toledo Symphony will be in the pit.
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Coming in for solo spots will be Olga Pavlova and Andrei Jouravlev, who last danced in Toledo in 2011. Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli will make a cameo debut in the role of Mother Ginger in the Dec. 15 show. Rick Woodell, radio personality with 101The River will handle the part in the Dec. 14 performances.
Tickets are $21-$51 at 419-381-8851 or toledoballet.org.
As a preview, this afternoon, Toledo Ballet’s 2013 Claras — Catherine Orchard and Madeline Rick — will receive guests at a tea from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Toledo Club. Resident storyteller Condessa Croninger will relate the story of a lissome heroine, a ratty villain, a strong silent hero, a dreadful battle, and a magical tour of the world of dance.
Sandusky to Valentine
At the same time today, Ballet Theatre of Toledo’s latest production of Nutcracker will begin on the historic stage of Sandusky’s State Theatre, the second of two shows in a return engagement.
The production will move next weekend to another historic venue: the Valentine Theatre in downtown Toledo.
This year’s Fritz, to be danced by Evan Zorovich, came to the first rehearsal fully prepared, says Nigel Burgoine, choreographer and stager of the presentation.
“I didn’t have to teach him a step. He knew every single thing,” said Burgoine, of the 9-year old, the youngest Fritz in company history.
Sharing the Clara role will be Mackenzie Abodeely and Morgan Smith. Leigh Anne Albrechta and Kristopher Wojtera will come in as Snow Queen and King. Dawnell Dryja and Stephen Sanford will appear in the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince.
WTVG-TV, Channel 13 reporter Tony Geftos will return as Mother Ginger and Harrison McClintock is due to dance the Arabian solo.
For Burgoine, a native of England, adding quirky, fun touches to tradition such as special walk-on guests is part of his style. A new dog will make his debut as will a mystery guest of whom Burgoine says, “He’s a sly one.”
At the entrance to the Valentine hall, audience members will receive a program with a distinctive cover. In a contest sponsored with WTVG, Ballet Theatre selects a design for the cover, with prizes for the winner.
This year, 11-year-old Isaac Burkhart drew the winning design, an image of the stalwart nutcracker.
Shows in the Valentine will begin with a special performance for military families, seniors, and special needs students at 2 p.m. Friday.
Regular performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets and information are available at the Valentine box office, 419-242-2787.
Up in Monroe, the River Raisin Ballet Co. is gearing up for its annual productions Dec. 7 and 8 (shows are 2 and 7 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2 p.m. on Dec. 8) at the downtown arts center, 114 South Monroe St.
For tickets and more information call 734-242-7722.
South of town, Julie’s Ballet Company is revving up a contemporary version, Nutcracker All Jazzed Up, for shows at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and 2 p.m. Dec. 22 in Kobacker Hall on the Bowling Green State University campus.
For tickets and information, visit 419-353-5030.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org