Since the 1950s, “The Nutcracker” has been the most widespread American holiday tradition. Almost every city in the country, whether it has a professional company, a civic company or a ballet school has its own version of this classic tale of love, conflict, good versus evil, candy canes, sugar plums and ultimate kindness. It’s a holiday tradition for families and young, aspiring dancers.
While Tulsa's tradition with this unique piece of theater and dance doesn't date back as far as the San Francisco Ballet or New York City Ballet's productions, this year the company will be celebrating the 50th consecutive year of presenting “The Nutcracker” in its entirety. And, while the tradition with the Mouse King and the Sugar Plum Fairy is only 50 years old, Tulsa Ballet began 63 years ago with a single performance of the snow scene of “The Nutcracker.”
The performance is set in 1920s Paris with Tchaikovsky’s music played by a live orchestra. In observance of the 50th anniversary, Tulsa Ballet has created an alumni group of dancers and children who will be honored at a special dinner later this month and attend a performance of “The Nutcracker” together. One of the most notable alumni is American actress and singer Kristen Chenoweth who danced as a bunny in “The Nutcracker” years ago.
“I was in the very first performance of Tulsa Civic Ballet in 1956. We (a corps de ballet made up of students from four different Tulsa ballet schools) danced the Snow Scene from “The Nutcracker,” led by Moscelyne Larkin and Roman Jasinski,” said Georgia Jones Snoke – president emerita, historian and former dancer of Tulsa Ballet. “Fast forward a generation and our daughter Heather, at age four, became the first “Baby Angel” in “The Nutcracker.” Thereafter, she and her sister Kelsi danced just about every role, with Kelsi also dancing “Clara” in Tulsa and in Colorado Springs.”
“I danced in the first full-length performance of The Nutcracker in 1969. I was in Land of the Snow and in the Coda and had the privilege of Jasinski choreographing the Arabian on me, Georgia Snoke, Claudia Kennon and Bob Cockle. That version ran for the entire 30-plus years of Jasinski’s “The Nutcracker,” and it was absolutely beautiful,” said Cheryl Forrest, president emerita, chief historian and former dance with Tulsa Ballet. “Many years later, when married with children, I was able to enjoy watching my daughter Stephanie as Mouse on Cheese for two years, Mouse for two years, and Gun Soldier for two years.”
“The Nutcracker represents the midway point in the season, and we had a choice to either settle during this time or emerge from the performances a better company,” said Artistic Director Marcello Angelini. “For this reason, I made sure the choreography of my version was challenging, so that every dancer in the company is pushed to their technical and artistic limits. Given the limited resources we had 17 years ago, when this version premiered, the excitement had to come from the dancing rather than visual artifices. As a result, the company that surfaces after “The Nutcracker” is a better one as compared to two months earlier.
Every performance of Tulsa Ballet is amazing and if it’s not already a tradition in your family, perhaps this is the year. Performances run from December 7-22 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center with tickets starting at $25.00. For more information, TulsaBallet.org.