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Nevada Ballet Theatre gives ‘The Nutcracker’ a Smith Center makeover

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New Nutcracker: No more painted mural backdrop for Nevada Ballet Theatre.
Photo: Leila Navidi

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The Nutcracker
December 15-16, 21-23, times vary, $29-$158
Smith Center, 749-2000

One doesn’t often get to say, “Prepare to have your mind blown,” when referring to the holiday ballet The Nutcracker. But when a company goes for an all-new $2 million production, complete with life-size four-story Victorian dollhouse, new costumes, live music and fresh choreography, it feels quite natural. Particularly when the company’s artistic director refers to the ballet as “Tim Burton meets Dr. Seuss.”

That’s the story with Nevada Ballet Theatre, which opted to move forward with a new production this year, rather than dust off the old work. Artistic director James Canfield chalks it up to timing: Its first holiday in the Smith Center comes with ample space for enormous props and an orchestra pit for live music. This isn’t, after all, just any performance for the company. Not that The Nutcracker ever is; despite it not being, typically, a dancer’s favorite, it’s the proverbial breadbasket for companies everywhere, helping them meet annual budgets and introducing new audiences to ballet by dazzling them with the seasonal performance.

'The Nutcracker' Rehearsal

“As the resident ballet company, it was important that we come out of the box with something really spectacular,” Canfield says. “The original tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman was my point of departure for this production. I wanted to adhere as closely as possible to the traditional story to create a cohesive concept from beginning to end. I also wanted to steer away from conventional scenery, where you have set pieces flying on and off the stage. ... We instead used black surround to create the illusion of sets coming out of a void.”

Popping out of the void might be a more apt description. At a recent rehearsal, the three-dimensional dollhouse towered over the dancers milling onstage in their “Original Cast 2012” sweatshirts, and accommodated others positioned in rooms inside the house, decked for the holidays. Created by Patricia Ruel (prop designer for Cirque du Soleil’s Love) and built at Blue Line Studios, the furnished dollhouse includes eight rooms, spiral staircases, large-print wallpaper, crown molding, electricity and a grand staircase with white railings. Essentially, no more painted mural backdrop.

This year's production features more than 150 cast members, including 109 children from the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre and NBT's Education and Outreach programs.

The set artistry continues in Act II, when a 30-foot-tall, lit Christmas tree becomes the centerpiece, flanked by a gigantic clock and cupboard. The giant rocking horse, dolls and birdcage dwarf the performers, creating the “exaggerated perspective” sought by Canfield. Clocks are an important part of the production, too, symbolizing a consistent thread of time and celebrating the generations in the storyline, Canfield says.

The production’s $2 million price tag—two-thirds of NBT’s usual annual budget—was raised from a capital campaign in which the Houssels Family Foundation gave the first $1 million. In addition to paying for the set itself, funds from the campaign went toward costumes designed by Sandra Woodall (whose résumé includes the San Francisco Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet) and to the orchestra’s 36 members (26 of whom are Philharmonic musicians), who will perform The Nutcracker’s Tchaikovsky score under the musical direction of Jack Gaughan. The production will also feature more than 150 cast members—109 of them children from the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre and NBT’s Education and Outreach programs.

Crack one at home

For the occasion of the new ballet, celebrities and community notables custom-designed nutcrackers, which will be on display and for sale in the Smith Center lobby prior to performances. Look for works by Marie Osmond, Carrot Top, Carolyn Goodman, Terry Fator, Matt Goss, the Chippendales dancers and Miss Nevada, Randi Sundquist.

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Kristen Peterson

Kristen Peterson joined the Las Vegas Sun in 1998 as a general assignment reporter. In 2003, she turned her focus ...

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