By Richard Pryor III
On Saturday, November 12, members of the Sewanee community entered Guerry Auditorium to see one of the two performances of The Nutcracker: A Yuletide Ballet by the Alabama Youth Ballet Theatre (AYBT) with the Sewanee Dance Conservatory (SDC) and Perpetual Motion (PMo). This collaboration dates back a few years, with Co-Artistic Director of AYBT David Herriott having previously directed the SDC. Showing at 2:30 and 7:00 p.m., the classic Christmas story of Clara Stahlbaum’s magical Christmas Day entertained the audience. It was performed by AYBT dancers alongside Sewanee dancers, such as Annie Corley (C’20) and Ashlin Ondrusek (C’19) who danced as the Lilies.
Faculty and staff danced as well, including Chair of the Chemistry Department Dr. Robert Bachman; Dr. Sara Nimis, post-doctoral fellow in Arabic; and Dr. Eric Hartman, Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Risk Management. Many children of faculty members also appeared in various scenes.
While the choreography of co-Artistic Directors of AYBT Herriott and Keren Gibb Hilliard deviates from the traditional George Balanchine-esque style that one would expect to see done by a professional company, the show captivated audiences for the two hours. At times, the show was comedic with usage of traditional pantomime tactics, especially in the first act, but it had a high standard of elegance and beauty, with high quality dancing and a score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky that has earned its reputation as a Christmas classic.
“I love seeing the Nutcracker every year because I feel like it puts me in the holiday spirit, even if it is early November, and this production was great because I got to go and support my friends who were performing. And the sheep were a big hit. Definitely a crowd pleaser,” says Campbell Stuart (C’20).
Memorable moments and actors included the sheep, played by tiny five year-olds who charmed the audience, the powerful male dancers: the Russians and the Cavalier, and the sophisticated and complicated lifts, turns, and moves by the lead female roles such as the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Orchid, and the Snow Queen.
A favorite dance for many was the Cavalier solo. It only lasted around one minute, but Connor Campbell performed powerful jumps and turns that would tire anyone. He showed no signs of exhaustion during the dance, even though he had just done his Grand Pas De Deux (dance for two) a 10 minute dance with multiple lifts.
Technically, the show was quite normal, with nothing that truly blew the audience away. For example, there were almost no real set pieces beside two different backdrops and some chairs. The props were where the show technically shined, they were quite well made and you could see that a good amount of craftsmanship went into them. For example, the sleigh that carried Clara and the Nutcracker Prince from the Snow Kingdom to the Kingdom of Sweets had the shell of a nut on the top, leading one to believe that a cracked nut was the main medium in creating it.
The experience was also rewarding to see many Sewanee students participate. Corley said that she enjoyed performing and that she found it to be a “great way” for her to continue doing ballet. She thought that it was a “wonderful experience” that she was pleased to share with a “wonderful group of girls.”
What astounded many in the audience was the age of the cast, with around 80% of the cast under 22 years old. Overall, the show was a great winter experience, and the performance will be reprised, though without the Sewanee performers, from December 2-4 at Lee High School in Huntsville, AL. Herriott also predicts they will be back to the mountain next year and everyone should come to watch.