A Half-Century & Counting

Oklahoma City Ballet Continues Cherished Annual Tradition: The Nutcracker to Be Staged Dec. 8-17

Across the globe, both amateur and professional ballet productions of The Nutcracker help ring in the holiday season.

Locally, the holiday classic is a cherished tradition that's deeply rooted in Oklahoma City Ballet’s rich history. The ballet company has produced The Nutcracker every year for more than a half-century. 

Each year, dancers, choreographers, set designers and directors come together to put on this annual production, which brings the story of Clara, the Nutcracker, the toy soldiers, the Sugar Plum Fairy and other fantastical beings to life with hints of nuanced classicalism, Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music, and virtuoso choreography and dancing.

“The production is really special here in Oklahoma City,” explains Ryan Nye, Oklahoma City artistic director. “The audience is able to experience a high-level piece of art.” 

Ryan joined Oklahoma City Ballet as a guest dancer for the 2015 production of The Sleeping Beauty before serving as interim artistic director and rehearsal director. He became artistic director in 2022. 

Ryan is charged with working alongside Oklahoma City Ballet’s company dancers, choreographers, contract dancers and artistic staff to make the production come together in a way that is both traditional and fresh.

“A full-length ballet takes multiple artists and designers to get involved, and everyone has to coordinate together,” Ryan says. “There is a lot of skilled effort from a lot of different people that makes it all come together.”

The process of putting together The Nutcracker takes months. Intense initial and ongoing rehearsals are only the tip of the iceberg. Like the magical mice in the production, creatives can be found scurrying behind the scenes to create and produce the whimsical one-of-a-kind sets and costumes that set The Nutcracker apart from other ballets. Other creatives are working on getting the lighting just so.

Later, technical theater rehearsals come into play, and the production really starts to gain momentum with the arrival at rehearsals of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, which provides the orchestration for the annual production.

As the production nears opening night, Ryan spends time watching the production from the audience’s point of view. 

 “It is really inspirational to get to sit back and relax and watch their production take shape,” Ryan says. 

For the 2022 production, the company revamped the choreography to add new elements and style choices, while also staying true to the original choreography. The choreography was revised to make it more culturally respectful and relevant, along with adding different and fresh aspects that continue to captivate and draw in holiday viewers, Ryan explains.

However, he adds: “You don’t want to mess with something that isn’t broken. You want to stay close to the original style, but evolve with the dancers’ skills.”

The dancers on contract with Oklahoma City Ballet perform in The Nutcracker each year, a practice that allows them to form a close-knit community within the production, to further develop their skills and to more deeply connect with the characters they play. The practice also allows the dancers to add their own personal elements to each character and dance. Their nuanced interpretations then translate into an even more magical production, Ryan says. 

This year’s Oklahoma City Ballet production of The Nutcracker promises to keep the holiday magic alive for patrons of all ages. 

“I invite you to come see the production,” Ryan concludes. “Every year is a unique and special opportunity, so what you see in one moment, you won’t see in another. I would highly recommend it to anyone!”

The Oklahoma City Ballet's 2023 production of The Nutcracker will be staged Dec. 8-17 in the Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave. Also featuring the OKCPHIL and Canterbury Voices. Purchase tickets at OKCBallet.org/performance/the-nutcracker/.

“A full-length ballet takes multiple artists and designers to get involved, and everyone has to coordinate together.”

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