THE HOLIDAY SEASON STARTS WITH “THE NUTCRACKER”

Like every year in recent memory, Ballet San Antonio is the first theatrical company to officially herald the start of the holiday season by presenting the most Christmas-y of all Christmas productions – the beloved “Nutcracker” ballet. The nine-performance run starts Friday, Nov. 24 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, with the San Antonio Symphony in the pit.

This will be artistic director Willy Shives’ second “Nutcracker” since he took the helm of the company a couple of years ago. Though Shives, like most choreographers, stays close to tradition when it comes to “The Nutcracker,” last year he put his stamp on the production in a number of ways – enhancing the role of the young protagonist Clara and her mysterious godfather Drosselmeyer, intensifying the Sugar Plum Fairy’s final pas de deux, and introducing a brisker and different Land of Snow section. The latter was originally choreographed by Gerald Arpino, the co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet, where Shives spent 17 years as top dancer and ballet master.

The 2017 edition will keep these changes and add a few others, he said. He likes to cast adult company members (instead of older children) in the roles of Clara and her mischievous brother Fritz “to keep the level of dancing high.” “Clara is the focal point of the ballet. I need professional dancers, and the acting maturity they bring to the roles, to carry the story across,” explained Shives. Clara will also remain more actively engaged throughout the story. When she jumped into the action during the battle between the mice and toy soldiers during the rehearsal process, the entire company applauded the move., noted the choreographer.

But there will be no shortage of kids on stage. More than a hundred ballet students from the area have been recruited to appear as party guests, mice, toy soldiers, etc. Altogether, the cast is close to 150, said Shives, so the stage will be more densely populated than a year ago. And the choreographer wants to give them all a more dynamic choreography to shine in.

“I’ll keep adding and adapting over the years,” he said. “I have ten new dancers in the company who have become part of the BSA family. And they all look really good together… Also, dancers’ technique and abilities have changed and grown so much in recent times that it’s a challenge to keep the choreography fresh and challenging for them.”

The key roles will be danced by different dancers throughout the run. There will be three Claras, for instance: Alexa Horwath, Julia Turner and Cecily Shives. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier will be portrayed by Sally Turkel and Marko Micov opening night, but other pairs will follow, including Sofie Bertolini and Andres Castillo, and Kate Maxted and Michael Agudelo.

In addition, celebrity guests, such as KSAT meteorologist Mike Osterhage, news anchor Ursula Pari, Tobin Center’s CEO Mike Fresher, the Spurs Coyote and others, have accepted the fun challenge of appearing on stage as party guests as well as Mother Ginger in Act II.

“When I explained what I wanted them to do,  some said, ‘I can’t do that,’ but they are doing it,” said Shives with a chuckle. ——————————————————————————————————————————–  For tickets go to www.tobincenter.org, call 210-223-8624 or buy in person at The Tobin’s box office, 100 Auditorium Circle, 78205. Tickets cost $35 to $114.

Photos: Courtesy photo, Ballet San Antonio; Artistic Director Willy Shives, photo by Jasmina Wellinghoff