After a year’s absence, Northeast Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is back at Proctors with two shows Dec. 22-23. It will be the company’s 34th time presenting the ballet to Tchaikovsky’s music.
“The dancers are extremely excited to be back,” said Darlene Myers, director and founder of the company. “It’s beginning to feel more normal. We’ve been doing rehearsals, getting costumes fitted. But it’s been an intense rehearsal schedule with Thanksgiving off and with everyone tested, plus having to wait to get results because if the tests don’t come back, we can’t rehearse.”
This year, too, the cast is a bit smaller at 70 dancers, which has inspired Myers to “freshen up the steps and be more creative with my choreography. I don’t sleep. My staff doesn’t sleep. It’s been a harder challenge.”
The result is five new pieces.
Just getting the dancers in shape has also been challenging. Because of the pandemic, Myers held classes via Zoom, something her dancers requested to stay in shape — “a new animal,” Myers said. By spring, they got back into the studio, and because Saratoga Performing Arts Center had wanted dancers for its Young Artists Festival in June, Myers added more classes.
“That festival got everything started,” she said.
By summer, auditions were held for the many children needed in “The Nutcracker,” but people were cautious, especially parents, and only about 120 children ages 8 to 11 auditioned — fewer than in past years.
On the upside, however, was the number of professional dancers who joined the cast. Every year, two principal dancers from the New York City Ballet star, and this year it will be Lauren Lovette, who is appearing as the Sugar Plum Fairy for the sixth time, with Gonzalo Garcia as her Cavalier.
There are also two principal dancers, Nayara Lopes and Arian Molina, from Philadelphia Ballet, who are “fabulous” freelance dancers; Adrienne Cantema and Jakob Carr, who are returning for the third time to perform the sensuous Arabian pas de deux; Michela Semenza from Greensboro (North Carolina) Ballet as the Snow Queen; and Samantha Percy, former Northeast Ballet dancer, returning to dance Dew Drop in the Waltz of the Flowers.
While many of the company have danced various roles over the years, Bruce Williams has done 26 “Nutcrackers,” most often in the character roles of Mother Ginger or Uncle Drosselmeyer. What makes his involvement even more striking is that he commutes weekly to Myers’ studio from his home in New Hampshire.
“I’m really from Schenectady and used to act in the Light Opera Company in 1991,” he said. “But Darlene is a great mentor. I love her creativity and I like that she gets everyone to work together. And the 3.5-hour commute also lets me visit family, and I love Jay Street and get to stay in the hotel near Proctors.”
He also co-directs Act I of this ballet, which is the party scene. This gives him the chance to teach the acting part of the ballet to the dancers who “need to give the backstory as to what they’re doing. Act I sets the show and gets the story across to the audience,” he said. “A dancer’s expression is everything.”
This “Nutcracker” will have him as Mother Ginger rather than Uncle Drosselmeyer.
“I haven’t done Uncle since the 1990s. But as Mother, I want to do justice to her and not have a panic attack,” he said laughing. “I feel so privileged to work. … It’s beautiful to share my talent and learn new things. It’s part of paying it forward.”
In New Hampshire, Williams works as a director for Majestic Theater Company and teaches dance at Dance Works, as well as acting in dinner theater productions and musicals. His commitment to Northeast Ballet is more than a responsibility.
“I feel lucky and honored to be able to do it,” he said. “Plus, the atmosphere of mixing pros with community gives a mentorship atmosphere and a discipline. It’s great to have something like that in Schenectady outside of New York City.”
Someone new to the production is 14-year old Alaina Jackson, who attends Schalmont High School. She’s been taking dance classes since she was 3 and has been on pointe for about two years.
“I love ballet. It has a technique that is focused, where you can create great characters,” she said.
Her role will be as a party girl, and she’ll be onstage for about 20 minutes and all on pointe. Before having a role, she was always a member of the corps.
“We had to take time off because of the pandemic until last May,” Jackson said. “It was difficult getting back on pointe. I have classes four to five times a week for two to three hours – it’s a lot — and then rehearsals for ‘Nutcracker.’ And rehearsals are difficult. I had to do my dance three times. But recently I started to get the hang of working on pointe.”
She’s seen a professional production of “The Nutcracker” and can’t wait to perform in this one, especially as she’ll get to watch the professionals up close and maybe talk to them about what a professional dancer’s life is like. In the meantime, she’s just glad to be onstage.
“I’m really excited, and also because I got the chance to learn the dance of a snowflake girl as an understudy. That was very cool,” Jackson said. “And doing the makeup, hair, costumes . . . it will be great to be back.”
To bring all this to life, Deborah Chaney, Jane Havis, Mary Sawicz and Christine Steenburgh made the costumes; Alice Manzi, Dale Clark and Jeff Chaney built the sets and props; Adirondack Studios created the Growing Tree; and Bruce Connolly does the lighting. Tchaikovsky’s music is set on tape and William Blunck edited the music score for “The Nutcracker.” All safety protocols will be in place, including masking.
Northeast Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’
WHEN: 7 p.m. Dec. 22, Dec. 23
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $35
MORE INFO: www.proctors.org; 518 346 6204