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Nutcracker Reimagined

New costumes, sets and effects for the 2017 season.

Deanna Devey Sep 1, 2017

A 30-year tradition is changing as Ballet West rolls out a new version of its beloved “Nutcracker” production this year. Choreography and the original Tchaikovsky score will stay the same, but the decades-old props, sets and costumes will be replaced by “reimagined” ones, says Adam Sklute, Ballet West’s artistic director.

The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation funded this project with a $2 million donation after Chairman and CEO Spencer Eccles saw the need for replacements.

“I brought Spencer Eccles backstage and jokingly said, ‘Our production is being held together by Band-Aids and chewing gum,’” Sklute says. “He saw the gaffer tape that was holding together pieces of the set. He saw how the costumes were fraying and being re-darned so they could be worn without falling off.”

Thanks to the Eccles gift and two years of work from hundreds of Utah artisans, the new “Nutcracker” is set to debut Dec. 2.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is tradition,” Sklute says. “We will be keeping tradition while creating a production that will, hopefully, dazzle children, delight those who haven’t seen it and impress aficionados.”

Past Influencing the Future

The first performance of “The Nutcracker” took place in Russia in 1892. Brigham City native and Ballet West founder William Christensen, or “Mr. C.,” brought the ballet to the U.S. in 1944 while working in San Francisco.

Christensen produced “The Nutcracker” in Salt Lake City in 1955. Ballet West holds the distinction of having the longest-running full production of the show in the U.S. Before Christensen died in 2001, he created four different versions of the ballet.

“I felt there was precedence to reimagine how the sets and costumes look,” Sklute says. “We wanted to create a new version that would take us into the 21st century.”

Sklute used inspiration from the original 1816 story and the original 1892 ballet as well as from Christensen’s family, colleagues and previous renditions to direct the creation of more than 200 costumes and 24 sets.

“The process involved thinking about how to honor Mr. C.’s choreography but at the same time bring it forward and create something new and visually exciting — all while giving audiences the same experience they’ve enjoyed,” Sklute says.

New for 2017

The new performance is set in the early 19th century, when E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote the original story. Ballet West’s prior version placed in the late 1800s. Other changes include the Christmas tree — now large enough to cover the entire stage — and an Act 2 backdrop based on the original 1892 set depicting homes from around the world.

The 1892 production, which references bees and honey, also inspired a change that will honor Utah, the Beehive State. Mother Buffoon will be in a giant beehive with bees as her little buffoons. Sklute has surprises planned for the battle scene and conclusion, including effects Christensen imagined but didn’t have the budget or technology to incorporate 30 years ago.

Patrons will see how it all comes together during this season of “The Nutcracker,” traditionally Ballet West’s best-selling production. Tickets for the nearly 30 performances are on sale now at BalletWest.org.

“I look at the new production like a Christmas tree,” Sklute says. “We always want to find those ornaments we love year in and year out and then put some brand-new ones on the tree at the same time. That’s what we’re doing here.”
 

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