Holiday Performances: Live Nutcrackers and a Diwali story

Jerry Hochman

Those who read this already know that the number of online performances, live streamed or otherwise, has exploded as a result of world-wide Covid-19-related live performance restrictions. And those who read this doubtlessly are already aware, via Instagram, Facebook, or a followed dancer or company or venue’s website, what’s available and when. Accordingly, I’ve limited my advance notices of available performances to those that might be of particular local interest, or are less likely to be readily ascertained.

Two upcoming events, and another already available, satisfy these criteria and are outlined below.

Ballet Collective

The most ambitious-sounding is the version of The Nutcracker being offered next month by Ballet Collective, billed as The Nutcracker at Wethersfield.  Choreographed and directed by the company’s Artistic Director Troy Schumacher, who is also a New York City Ballet soloist, this Nutcracker will be Covid-19 compliant, and will take place over a span of nearly three weeks at the bucolic Wethersfield Estate in Amenia, in Duchess County, New York (about 2 hours from mid-town Manhattan).

What makes this production most noteworthy, aside from the fact that it’s happening at all and that it’s conceived as a full-length ballet, is that it will provide work for more than 50 dancers, designers, crew, and arts workers who have seen their livelihoods and purpose disappear this year. Among them are nearly two dozen dancers currently furloughed from New York City Ballet who will participate in the production. Featured dancers, based on information available to date, include Sara Mearns, Tyler Angle, Ashley Laracey, Taylor Stanley, Mira Nadon, Erica Pereira, Ralph Ippolito, Eliza Blutt, Gabriella Domini, Savannah Durham, Claire von Enck, Emma von Enck, Malorie Lundgren, Mary Thomas MacKinnon, Miriam Miller, Davide Riccardo, Kristen Segin, Mary Elizabeth Sell, Mimi Staker, KJ Takahashi, and Cainan Weber. It is not yet known whether all the dancers will participate in each of the performances, or if there will be a rotating cast.

Troy Schumacher (center) and members of Ballet Collective
Photo by Kyle Froman
Courtesy of Ballet Collective

When guests arrive at the Wethersfield Estate, an historical site in New York’s Hudson Valley consisting of a neo-Georgian manor house, formal gardens, and splendid views, they will be immersed in a Nutcracker world. As described by Schumacher, the event will guide attendees through all of the quintessential moments of the ballet, including the Christmas-eve Party Scene during which guests will be guided in a themed tour through the manor house, the battle scene, an outdoor snow ballet and a tented Land of the Sweets (outdoor and tented locations will be heated).

In order to maintain Covid-19 compliance, the event, which will take place in multiple performances between December 4th and 23rd, will be supervised by a team of medical professionals to ensure the safety of guests and artists. All of the dancers will quarantine for four weeks (a process which began earlier this month), and will maintain social distance from all guests. Guests will be limited to 7-8 socially distanced groups of 2-6 attendees in each group in order to ensure that the house never exceeds 25% capacity, and that no more than 50 people, including dancers, are together in any space at any time. Guests must wear masks throughout the event.

The only caveat to all this is that live performance tickets, available by invitation, are extremely limited to the extent they may be available at all – and currently are restricted to the production’s underwriters (members of the Hudson Valley Community and “national arts lovers”) and their guests, with a limited number of tickets set aside for families particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. For those unable to secure tickets, the production is expected to be available by livestream and film to the public.

To obtain details about underwriting, and / or about ticket and performance availability, check the production’s web site: NutcrackerAtWethersfield.com

Brooklyn Ballet

On a somewhat smaller scale, and available to the public without having to leave New York City, is Brooklyn Ballet’s 2020 Nutcracker production. Titled The Brooklyn Nutcracker in the Jewel Box, the company will offer audiences nine free opportunities, from December 10 to 13, to see highlights from its Brooklyn Nutcracker, performed live by the company’s dancers and students.

Brooklyn Ballet dancers
Miku Kawamura and Darwin Black
in “The Brooklyn Nutcracker”
2019 performance
Photo by Kyle Froman
Courtesy of Brooklyn Ballet

Brooklyn Ballet describes itself as a unique and inter-disciplinary dance company, and its complete Brooklyn Nutcracker production is consistent with that: it fuses ballet, hip-hop, and an array of world dance genres to create a culturally inclusive production that celebrates dances and artists from around the globe, with a cast that typically invites 70 dancers, from student to professional. According to the company’s Artistic Director Lynn Parkerson, The Brooklyn Nutcracker began nearly 10 years ago on a Brooklyn street corner with a dance collaboration between a petite ballerina and a large hip-hop dancer.

The Nutcracker in the Jewel Box programs will include solos and small socially distant groups of dancers recreating the culturally integrated The Brooklyn Nutcracker dances that are a hallmark of Brooklyn Ballet’s work. Audiences will experience the African rhythms of the traditional Flamenco Spanish dancer and her “Palmeros,” an authentic Middle Eastern belly dancer, afro-modern dancers, hip-hop pop ’n’ lockers, and the iconic dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Brooklyn Ballet students
(center, Fina Sai)
in “The Brooklyn Nutcracker”
2019 performance
Photo by Kyle Froman
Courtesy of Brooklyn Ballet

Even more unique than its cultural inclusivism is the manner in which The Nutcracker in the Jewel Box will be presented. Brooklyn Ballet’s studios at 160 Schermerhorn Street (in Brooklyn, of course) include street-facing floor-to-ceiling windows, which at times allow passersby to see company classes from the outside in. For this production, the audience will also be watching from the outside in. That is, similar to viewing holiday window displays at many of the city’s retail stores, audiences will watch this “window display” of The Brooklyn Nutcracker highlights – except the window will be populated by Brooklyn Ballet’s dancers performing live, and presumably those who view it may watch for as long as they like.

Additionally, the company will offer a “Selfie Window” (at the same location) dressed up for the season and dedicated to capturing the memories of the performance, designed by The Brooklyn Nutcracker’s art director, Avram Finklestein.

The performance schedule is as follows:

Thursday, December 10: 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Friday, December 11: 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, December 12: 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, December 13: 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and *6:30 p.m.

[*The final performance is described as a virtual gala, and will include video access to the Nutcracker performance, Q&A with the dancers, collaborators, and choreographer, access to archived performances, and “other exciting surprises.”]

 

The Red Curtain Project

Last, at least for now: Preeti Vasudevan’s Red Curtain Project, which I’ve previously reviewed, is presenting its own holiday offering titled Lights for Gita.

This latest Red Curtain Project story, using Indian classical dance movement performed by Vasudevan to tell the story, celebrates Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Through the story of young Gita, who has immigrated to cold and wintery Canada from the tropical warmth of India, the viewer discovers what it means to dispel darkness and find true light within each of us; and how immigrants can make new homes in unknown countries while integrating meaningful customs from their heritage.

As with other “stories for children” presented by Red Curtain Project (which are equally entertaining and informative for adults), this story has a dual purpose. Not only does it celebrate Diwali, it also explains classical Indian Dance movement (facial expressions and hand gestures) via explanatory narratives performed by Vasudevan, thereby preserving and encouraging that aspect of Indian culture as well.

The story is based on the book, “Lights for Gita” by Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Alice Priestly, and published by Second Story. It was adapted with original music and illustration for the Red Curtain Project, and is available for viewing now on the Red Curtain Project web site: https://www.redcurtainproject.org/lights-for-gita .