It wouldn’t be Christmas without “The Nutcracker.”
Though the ballet was not an immediate hit way back in 1892, since the 1960s it has been as much a part of our holiday pop culture calendar as eggnog, corny Christmas card photos, and “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
But adaptation, too, is a part of tradition.
And, much like Starbucks’ Eggnog Frappuccino, ironically ugly sweaters, and the permanent addition of “Elf” to our collective yuletide to-watch list, there now exists for the adventurous aesthete bold new versions of the quintessential Christmastime show (New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay once wrote a whole series of articles documenting his travels across the United States to see different productions).
The high fantasy spectacle of the 2018 Disney film.
The bawdy pleasures of Seattle’s annual burlesque.
And this year’s reimagined take from Bainbridge Ballet: A multimedia production boasting novel effects, featuring many styles of dance and a slightly forward-shifted narrative.
“We are very excited about introducing some multimedia innovations into the production this year, with projected animation, much like [Pacific Northwest Ballet] does with their ‘Nutcracker,’” said Bainbridge Ballet spokeswoman Dawn Weber. “As always, we try to mix up the theme, and have a cast of almost 80. It promises to be an exciting production.”
With apologies to the purists, this, the second consecutive solo Bainbridge Ballet production after a longtime annual partnership with Olympic Performance Group, melds performers of a wide array of ages, experiences, and specialities.
“My training is strictly classical ballet, so that’s what I grew up with [but] I know that sometimes that can be a little bit unreachable to people,” said artistic director and co-choreographer Maureen MacNeill. “So I think that doing it this way, where we incorporate all the styles of dance, is probably something that the audience members enjoy. It’s probably a little bit of a surprise to see something like tap, and hip-hop even, in our production.”
Revelatory, perhaps. But nobody’s complaining.
“It has been well received around here,” MacNeill said. “I think that people, they expect to see a slightly different ‘Nutcracker.’ If you really want the traditional version they have it over in Seattle. But I do know a lot of smaller productions are starting to branch out into this, kind of changing the story a little bit. So that kind of implies people are possibly hungry for that.”
Those so peckish can see performances of Bainbridge Ballet’s 2019 production of “The Nutcracker” at 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21 and Sunday, Dec. 22, as well as at 2 p.m Monday, Dec. 23 at the North Kitsap Auditorium (1881 NE Hostmark St., Poulsbo).
In this version, the story itself has been changed a bit.
“The family involved is not actually the Stahlbaums, which is the traditional family,” MacNeill said. “These family members are Uncle Drosselmeyer’s heirs, basically. We don’t have a traditional Drosselmeyer in this production [so] it ends up being the older brother, who comes back from war … he ends up being the one that does all the magic.”
The update could easily have gotten grim, said Scott Breitbarth, co-choreographer and projection artist, who is creating the multi-media aspect of the show.
“He’s a soldier coming home from war, who finds out his siblings have grown up quite a bit since he last saw them, and on top of that they’re fighting,” he said. “He’s lamenting the fact that he’s missed so much time with them … So the story that he enacts and magic is a way for him to have that one good magical experience with the both of them.
“It’s very easy to do a very dark ‘Nutcracker,’ but I feel like with the depth of the themes we’re going with already, with the period, being a post-war story, we want to throw in as many jokes as possible.”
The character of Clara is fleshed out, too. And her bratty brother Fritz makes the trip to Land of Sweets.
“I enjoy Clara’s journey … but for me I said she basically is pretty much a vessel for all the magic that happens,” Breitbarth said. “I feel like if you want to give a good message to a story you have to have interaction, you have to have real development. So I said the real heart of this, and the thing that should be continued, is the sibling rivalry. It’s the argument between the two of them over having the perfect Christmas.”
And, just as the timeframe of the story has been moved up, so too has the production’s multimedia stylistic inspiration.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a CGI masterpiece, but I think it’s going to have a very timeless feel,” Breitbarth said. “And, actually, the period is going to lend itself to that because we’re going to be emulating a lot of Georges Méliès movies.
“He did a lot of fantasy work just with choosing the technical side of film to make these illusions, and in a way we’re kind of doing that ourselves, combining what you see on the screen with what you see on the stage.”
At the end of the day, whether you like your “Nutcracker” strictly traditional or unapologetically inventive, MacNeill, who actually identifies as a bit of a ballet purist herself, said the story persists in its appeal for universal reasons.
“I think the thing that appeals to most people is just that childhood magic quality of Christmas we all feel, because that is always there, that undying magic component of Christmas Eve and what is going to happen tomorrow?” she said.
“And that is still very much there.”