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’Tis the season: ‘Nutcracker’ tradition ushers in the holidays

  • CTY-nutcracker29p-1

    Members of the The Ballet Theater of Toledo perform 'The Nutcracker.'

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  • CTY-nutcracker29p-2

    Several productions of 'The Nutcracker' are scheduled in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan through Dec. 20.

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  • ROV-cracker09p-2

    The Stranahan Theater hosts 'The Nutcracker' for the 75th time Dec. 11-13.

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CTY-nutcracker29p-1

Members of the The Ballet Theater of Toledo perform 'The Nutcracker.'

The Blade
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Nutcrackers come in all shapes, sizes, and themes these days — from the traditional red-coated soldier to Star Wars characters, from an Elvis who will shell out goodies to golfers, pirates, cowboys, and M&Ms.

Nutcracker Month kicks off next weekend at the Valentine Theatre with Nigel Burgoine’s Ballet Theatre of Toledo offering three publica shows Friday through Sunday.

Toledo Ballet’s productions are Dec. 11-13 in the Stranahan Auditorium.

And in Bowling Green, Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Monroe, Tecumseh, and Detroit, there is at least one production of The Nutcracker slated each weekend through Dec. 20.

It seems unbelievable that Tchaikovsky’s holiday extravaganza flopped at its 1892 debut in St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater.

Today, The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition in over 120 U.S. cities, as well as around the world.

Related article: Area productions of ’The Nutcracker.’

Local productions mostly, they are the meat and potatoes of dance company budgets.

Each will strive for distinction while hewing to the original E.T.A. Hoffman story: a young girl (perhaps named Maria or Clara) receives a coveted nutcracker from her godfather during the family’s Christmas party. Broken by her younger brother, then rescued and repaired, the nutcracker inspires the girl to dream big that night.

Most of the ensuing action in two acts brings Clara’s elaborate dream to life: there’s a battle between feisty mice and stalwart soldiers; a Christmas tree that soars to the heights, and then a magical voyage to the Land of Sweets.

Act II is a Whitman’s Sampler of dance styles in brief episodes fueled by Tchaikovsky’s energetic score.

Perhaps the most revered nutcracker locally is one owned by Marie Bollinger Vogt, founder of the Toledo Ballet.

A long, slim plank of wood, hand-carved, jointed, and painted by a volunteer, it’s a relic of this city’s first exposure to The Nutcracker, the Russian ballet set to music by Tchaikovsky.

This year is being hailed by Vogt and company as their 75th production of the show.

As a high school student studying dance in New York City, Vogt encountered a production of the ballet. She was hooked.

CTY-nutcracker29p-2

Several productions of 'The Nutcracker' are scheduled in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan through Dec. 20.

The Blade
Enlarge | Buy This Image

“The music of Nutcracker appealed to me,” recalled Vogt during a public conversation at the Toledo Museum of Art on Nov. 7, with museum director Brian Kennedy as host and Toledo Ballet executive director Mari Davies sharing the platform.

Young Marie Bollinger returned to her hometown and brought her version to life in a high school production. She counts that 1939 performance of the “Divertissement” from the ballet as its local debut.

But she had bigger dreams and began teaching parts of the ballet to her students at a local arts academy.

By the time Miss Bollinger had graduated from the University of Toledo, she had been noticed by the Toledo Symphony, founded in 1943.

In 1949, the orchestra was ready to go public with a larger production, said Bob Bell, president emeritus of the orchestra.

“We presented The Nutcracker and brought the Toledo Ballet in,” he said.

“I was young. The dancers were young. We did the first scene only,” said Vogt, adding that the father of the girl playing Clara created the nutcracker.

That debut took place in the museum auditorium, since removed during a 1980s renovation. It was considered a smash hit.

And Vogt realized The Nutcracker had legs in Toledo.

“The ballet did so well with it we turned it over to them,” Bell said of that early artistic collaboration.

The production moved around a lot in those early decades, from the Peristyle to downtown theaters like the now-defunct Rivoli and Paramount, to the Stranahan’s precursor, the Masonic Auditorium.

And how it did grow.

Although neither Toledo Ballet nor Ballet Theatre of Toledo are professional companies, both bring the highest standards to their productions.

Both stage hordes of dancers and actors, elaborate costumes and sets, and live music, plus professional soloists from professional companies.

Toledo Ballet will bring back Miami Ballet soloist Renato Penteado and Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida dancer Mary Carmen Catoya for the big solos.

Ballet Theatre’s soloists will be Sarah Hairston and Zack Grubbs from the Cincinnati Ballet. For the Act II comedy spot, Mother Ginger, a giant figure in gaudy gown from which burst a dozen or so tiny tumblers, many companies bring in community leaders to have fun with the nondancing part.

The Toledo Ballet will bring back veteran Paul Causman, plus Keith Burwell, and Lawrence Nichols, for the part.

Ballet Theatre will gussy up media figures Tony Geftos and Rick Woodell for Mother Ginger.

“It’s a fantastic way to continue your Thanksgiving celebration by bringing your whole family to the theater and experiencing the magic of The Nutcracker,” said Burgoine, who is marking the 11th annual year for his lively production.

During the Nov. 7 conversation with Kennedy, Vogt, who won the Ohio Arts Commission’s Governor’s Award for Arts Administration this year, offered the museum her original nutcracker.

ROV-cracker09p-2

The Stranahan Theater hosts 'The Nutcracker' for the 75th time Dec. 11-13.

The Blade
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The director accepted.

Perhaps it will fit into Degas and the Dance, the museum’s special exhibition in the Canaday Gallery. There, bronze versions of French painter Edgar Degas’ wax originals are on display along with paintings and drawings inspired by young dancers of the Paris Opera.

Adjoining the art is a collection of Toledo Ballet mementos, plus a real dance studio, where future soloists take class on a regular schedule. The museum created the show to honor this 75th anniversary, continuing the arts collaboration model started long ago.

Toledo Ballet’s 75th production of The Nutcracker is set for three shows: 2 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13 and 7 p.m. Dec. 12 in the Stranahan Theater. Tickets are $25-$55 at the box office, 419-381-8851.

By then, Ballet Theatre of Toledo’s performances will be fond memories.

Choreographed and directed by company founder Nigel Burgoine, this year’s shows are slated for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Valentine Theatre. Tickets are $20-$39 with special military pricing at 419-242-2787 or valentinetheatre.com.

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