Fairies, Flutes, & Flowers Galore

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is a classic ballet that many people don’t realize they’re already familiar with. Sometimes it is the background music in commercials for things like M&Ms or Target stores, but the ballet became more of a popular holiday tradition around the same time the Disney film Fantasia came out back in the ’40s. Selections from the ballet suite are prominently used in the film to illustrate the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn to winter and a variety of dances are presented by fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms and leaves including “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Chinese Dance,” “Dance of the Flutes,” “Arabian Dance,” “Russian Dance,” and “Waltz of the Flowers.”
So it’s no wonder why the time-honored traditional ballet pops up on the Laughlin December holiday entertainment scene each year like The Christmas Story shows up on television.
The Nutcracker is the one holiday tradition unlike any other because people get to experience it as live art, with the story told through dance. It makes appearances in theaters across the country, often in venues not given to ballet. Such is the case when the Anaheim Ballet brings its production of The Nutcracker to the stage of Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort, Thursday-Sunday, Dec 7-10.
Just as The Nutcracker is a tried and true holiday tradition, so is the tradition of the Anaheim Ballet bringing their version to the Riverside Resort. Since its first pirouette in Laughlin a little over 30 years ago, the ballet has become part of the December experience. It has become a family tradition as well for many residents who have the chance to see a top-notch ballet company perform one of the holiday classics without traveling to a big city—or if you have traveled here from a big city, it is your chance to see the ballet at a bargain price without worrying about parking.
And the Anaheim Ballet is one of the best. The company was the recipient of the Arts Orange County’s 2008 Outstanding Arts Organization Award, celebrating the outstanding achievements of the county’s creative community for 2007-2008.
The tradition of the ballet playing the Riverside Resort works two ways. Audiences look forward to it and so do the performers.
“The dancers see the show with fresh eyes and enjoy preparing for it,” explains Larry Rosenberg, the ballet company’s producer/director. “Coming to Laughlin is like coming to a home theater because we know we’re going to get a great deal of new visitors, as well as people who have never missed a production.
“We appreciate people making that choice to come see the show. It means a lot when they share their holiday season with us. It makes us feel like part of their family for a couple of hours. It’s exciting for audiences who are experiencing the show for the first time or the tenth time, and it’s exciting for us.”
Part of the excitement is that each production by the Anaheim Ballet has its own characteristics. There are often new dancers, new costumes and slightly new interpretations of the classic story line.
However, traditionalists relax. The main themes and characters are still there. Clara is still courageous, taking on the menacing Mouse King and rewarded for her bravery in the land of sweets; Sugar Plums still dance; and the Nutcracker still cracks. But other elements find their way into the Anaheim Ballet’s version.
“There’s always something new and different to discover in Anaheim Ballet’s staging of the classic ‘Nutcracker,'” states Rosenberg. “The core of the show changes as the cast changes. We play to the strengths of the dancers to get the best performance possible. But if a change doesn’t add to the story line, we don’t do it for the sake of change. If it improves the ballet presentation and justifies it, absolutely, we change it.”
According to Rosenberg, most of the changes are additions rather than subtractions.
“We add elements that other companies just gloss over,” explains Rosenberg. “For example, in the ‘Grandfather Dance’ in Act I, all of the party guests are characters playing a specific role. Every character is carefully thought out so it’s not just a generic ballet setting. Audiences can watch the reactions of the various characters, their interaction and identify with them.”
As an example of another addition to the holiday classic, Rosenberg cited the Anaheim Ballet’s tweak on the ending.
A few years ago, artistic director Sarma Lapenieks Rosenberg restaged the ending “Grand Pas de Deux” (dance for two), setting it as a “Pas de Six” (dance for six), where the Sugar Plum Fairy dances with the Italian Cavalier along with the international representatives from Candyland.
“The Pas de Six explores the joys and melancholy of looking back at childhood and forward to the future,” Rosenberg said. “The new version gives more of an identity to the Cavalier as he is now acknowledged as the ambassador from Italy. Making changes also acknowledges the vibrancy of the music, lending itself to fresh ideas and current interpretations making music created a hundred years ago feel fresh today.”
Experience a spectacle of towering Christmas trees, waltzing flowers, battling toy soldiers and menacing mice. The enduring theme remains unchanged-good overcomes evil.
Some of that music by Tchaikovsky is relatively “new.” A few years ago, some original music to “The Nutcracker” was discovered by arranger/composer John Lanchberry. That “new” music is featured in the Anaheim Ballet’s production at the Riverside Resort.
The 50-member cast includes all ages, from very young dancers in the roles of party guests, bon-bons tossing out candy to the audience, toy soldiers and mice, to veteran dancers, athletic Russians, graceful Snow Queens and Sugar Plums.
“The most motivating factor is the passion of the players,” says Rosenberg. “We take great care in doing this one differently by creating characters because we want this production to be unique and inspiring. Of course, we respect the integrity of the original ballet, but it’s not just ballet—it’s a full theatrical performance full of structured ballet. And when people return each year to see our productions, you know you’ve connected with them. There is always something to see.
“The entire cast is loving what they’re doing and it shows.”


THE NUTCRACKER BALLET

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 7-10 (7 p.m., matinee Sat-Sun 3 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets