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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

‘Nutcracker’ still a classic Christmas tradition

For the dancers it’s routine, for the audience it’s magical
Photo by Photo by Jessica Kaminiski

The Milwaukee Ballet continues “The Nutcracker” tradition through a performance with unique characters accompanied by a live orchestra. The show takes place at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts from Dec. 12 – 27.

“The Nutcracker” follows a little girl named Clara as she dreams of a land where her nutcracker toy comes to life. While still keeping true to the basic story line, the Milwaukee Ballet’s performance holds very unique elements that add new layers and development to the classic ballet.

The ballet opens in Drosselmeyer’s workshop where he and his nephew Karl are making the toys they will bring to the Christmas party. They arrive at the house where the party will take place, home of two loving parents and their three children, Marie, Clara and Fritz. Toward the end of the party, he gives his niece Clara her nutcracker doll.

Just as the clock strikes midnight, mice scurry out of the furnace and attack the three children. Clara’s doll comes to life as Karl and battles the evil mice. They travel through the Land of Snow, and Marie and Karl dance the “Snow Pas de Deux.” In the second act, the children celebrate their victory in the Land of Sweets where Marie turns into the classic Sugar Plum Fairy and dances with Karl again as they fall in love. At the very end of the ballet all of the children wake up in their living room, wondering if their adventures were reality or dreams.​​

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Marie is not in every production of “The Nutcracker,” setting Milwaukee Ballet’s production apart from others.

“The really nice thing about having her character throughout is it gives a little bit more meaning than what is traditionally the climax of the second act,” said Valerie Harmon, a Milwaukee Ballet company member who plays Marie. “It makes her a person that the audience can care about and invest in as well as Clara and Fritz, so you get to contrast what the magic is like for her and how it’s different for her little sister Clara or her brother Fritz.”

Harmon has been with the company since 2008. She will be dancing the roles of Marie, Snow, Flowers and the mother of the family. She said she looks forward to dancing the “Snow Pas De Deux.”

The Christmas tale will feature all of Milwaukee Ballet Company, Milwaukee Ballet II, a children’s cast and a guest dancer who will play Karl. There are a total of four set casts who rotate through their roles and perform on different nights, giving dancers a chance to develop characters in a new and innovative way.

“We’re encouraged as dancers here to really bring our own personality to each role we do,” Harmon said. “Every cast that you see, you see everybody truly being themselves in the roles.”

New dancers in different roles brings a fresh perceptive to the show, but having multiple dancers perform the same role also allows them to learn from each other.

The artistic staff placed the Milwaukee Ballet Company in its respective roles. They watch the dancers all year before deciding how to best cast the show. Some roles are reprised by the same people year to year, but there are often chances to take on new roles.

The children auditioned for the show in September. Although rehearsals for the company officially started in November, the children began earlier in the fall. Technical rehearsals at the Marcus Center start today, Dec. 10. Having many of the larger sets and costumes in the studio makes the transition to the stage easier.

Harmon said the kids in the show keep the company grounded and remind them that they are a part of something special.

“It’s a good reminder of how exciting it is for them,” Harmon said. “For us sometimes, I think we forget how magical this show is. We do it yearly, and a lot of us have done the same things year to year, but for these kids this is like the highlight of their year.”

The eye-catching sets are colorful and larger than life. However, the costumes really make this show stand out. They are reused and altered from year to year, and each dancer has multiple costumes. No detail is left unaddressed. The mouse costumes have long nails that omit loud noise when tapped. Each snowflake costume is unique, modeled after real snowflakes in that no two are alike.

“I bet everyone will have a different favorite moment (in the show), but there would definitely be a favorite for everyone,” Harmon said.

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