For a lot of families, the holiday season really kicks into high gear after attending an annual production of “The Nutcracker.” Once the dancers have taken their final bow, the last curtain closes and the house lights come up at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, we all know it won’t be much longer until we get swept up into weeks of celebrations.
Except this year will be a little different.
It’s not exactly a news flash that because of the coronavirus pandemic, most, if not all, of live arts events have been canceled in order to help quell the spread of the virus – “The Nutcracker” included.
“The Nutcracker” is usually performed by State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara, California, in December at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. And one of the best parts of the annual production was that young dancers from Durango and nearby communities could audition for parts in the show – partygoers, mice, soldiers, angels and Bon Bons – and take the stage with the professional dancers. The music of Tchaikovsky is performed live by the San Juan Symphony.
For the uninitiated, “The Nutcracker” is based on the book “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffman, and tells the story of a young German girl, Clara, whose godfather, Drosselmeyer, a clock and toy maker, presents her with a nutcracker during a holiday party. In Clara’s dream, the toy comes to life and escorts her on a journey to a magical land, where a cast of characters entertains her through dance.
But, with this year’s seemingly never-ending closures of everything fun (and, really, of just about everything) because of COVID-19, a live performance of “The Nutcracker” is not to be. There is a bright side, however: In its stead, Durango Dance has partnered with a host of local groups, and its own dancers, to give us “The Nutcracker” we were looking forward to ... with a twist befitting the times.
Miriam Morgan, owner of Durango Dance, said the idea to bring a locally made “Nutcracker” to a drive-in movie format came to her after the school had to pivot with its yearly spring recital, which was moved to September. Instead of a live recital, students were brought in individually to have their photos taken and perform a solo piece, which was filmed. All the filmed performances were put together into one epic recital film. September’s recital happened around the same time auditions for “The Nutcracker” would have taken place, and Morgan said her students’ disappointment got her thinking about alternatives.
So the idea for a “Nutcracker” movie was born. And there was no time to waste.
“It’s been pretty fast – I think everything in COVID is working kind of last minute,” Morgan said. “We decided on Sept. 19 that we were going to do this.”
Artists involved in the project include: Durango Dance and community dancers, Bif Hilliard, Francesca Bianchi, Wildwood Dance Project, Ballet Folklorico, The Hive, Durango Aerial Arts Circus, Durango Hula Ohana: Ka Pa Hula I Na Mauna and Preston Benson Videography.
“I really wanted to showcase not only local talent, but the local flavor of each talent. We have so many different groups like the hula group, for example, that would never really fit into a traditional ‘Nutcracker,’ but it’s part of our culture here to have a pretty large presence, and we wanted them to be able to show their style,” Morgan said. “The Hive is similar – you would have never seen skateboarding in ‘Nutcracker’ and that culture is also something that – I don’t participate in the skateboarding culture, so I didn’t want to dictate what that needed to look like. We just gave them pieces of music and said, ‘This is kind of the space for you, and you do with it what you will.’”
So while it’s not your average “Nutcracker,” Morgan said the show is still recognizable.
“We’re still following the basic framework,” she said. “We are adding a narrator because I think people struggle sometimes with the story, how the story takes place, and with it not being a consistent style – it’s not all ballet – we wanted to make sure it was cohesive.”