By Marah J. Morrison
A collaboration between the Ballet Western Reserve and the Dana School of Music’s jazz program will bring “The Nutcracker,” a classic, two-act ballet, to the stage on Dec. 7 and 9 at Stambaugh Auditorium.
Since the late 1960s, “The Nutcracker” has gained popularity and is now performed by a large number of ballet companies during the holiday season.
Katie Merrill, the executive director at Ballet Western Reserve, said “The Nutcracker” is a family tradition, and there’s a special place that people have for “The Nutcracker” and the variations the company is able to do.
“You’re not seeing the same Nutcracker, but you still have that connection to it,” she said.
Merrill said Ballet Western Reserve is offering local dance students an opportunity to perform on a full-sized production stage in front of 2,100 people to actual live music, and it’s very rare for people to see live music with a ballet.
“The educational benefits for our students are astronomical,” she said. “They are learning to adapt and work within their abilities.”
Merrill said she is excited about the collaboration with Youngstown State University and their program. She said YSU students, with a valid YSU ID, will receive a discount of $12, plus additional fees on Friday night’s performance.
Jacquelynn Cunningham, the artistic director at the Ballet Western Reserve, said she wanted to bring “The Nutcracker” back to Youngstown, but also wants it to stand out. She said she’s always been a fan of jazz music.
“I wanted to bring [jazz music composers] into that traditional story line of ‘The Nutcracker,’ but kind of spice it up a bit,” she said.
Cunningham said in this version of “The Nutcracker,” the time period is changed. She said this version of the ballet will take place in the 1920s, preferably 1926, when Stambaugh Auditorium was built.
“It’s the jazz age — The Roaring ’20s,” she said. “So, there is quite a few flappers. The story line is still about the same. I kind of tweaked some of the lead names.”
Cunningham said The Mouse King’s role in this version of “The Nutcracker” will be Mouse King Capone, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were very popular at the time, so they are going to make an appearance in the ballet as well.
“You do have the Tchaikovsky music but in different arrangements by Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller, and the whole show does not exist in a full jazz format,” she said. “I’ve had to select non-Nutcracker music to fill in the gaps.”
Cunningham said in the iconic battle scene between The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, she is using Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” for music. She said it’s going to be very lively and be entertaining toward the children in the audience.
“We’re still a ballet school and we’re still putting on a ballet production,” she said. “There’s [just] elements of jazz dance within the whole show.”
Emily Pasquale, the ballet mistress at Ballet Western Reserve, said she has done a lot of work with the rehearsals for “The Nutcracker.” She said when she was growing up, she has always done “The Nutcracker.”
“It’s so much fun to teach and rehearse with kids with this classic choreography,” she said. “It’s fun to watch them learn all of this choreography that I learned as a little kid.”
Pasquale said “The Nutcracker” has always been a classic tradition every year, but what’s great about this year’s production is the jazz element. She said she is excited to have the kids be able to experience it.
“It’s a whole new experience,” she said.