By Steve Sucato
New to Northeast Ohio’s The Nutcracker ballet offerings this holiday season is Ballet Legato’s first-ever production. It will be presented this Saturday, December 18 at Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center in Elyria.
For Ballet Legato executive artistic director Jennifer Kraynik-Muselin the thought of there not being an audience for yet another The Nutcracker production in the area had crossed her mind. But the former principal dancer for now-defunct Ohio Dance Theatre says she heard from former ODT followers and from Stocker Arts Center supporting the idea of Ballet Legato mounting its own. She also felt that there was room for production that was a bit different, mixing tradition with more contemporary ballet movement.
It is common these days for the thousands of community Nutcracker productions put on across the U.S. to have a local tie-in or an alternate setting twist to E.T.A. Hoffman’s familiar tale of a young girl’s magical Christmas Eve adventure. Most, however, still choose to retain a fair amount of the traditional choreography passed down for generations from choreographer Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s 1892 original. With Ballet Legato’s production, Kraynik-Muselin chose a different approach. While retaining much of the traditional framework and scenes contained in the original ballet, Kraynik-Muselin created her own original choreography for the ballet, much of which was first presented as part her Jam Dance Academy The Nutcracker production from 2016-2018.
“My stuff always has a bit of twist,” says Kraynik-Muselin. “The costuming for the ballet’s ‘Snow’ scene corps de ballet dancers is black, not white, and we have fake snowballs being thrown into the audience.” In the second act “Waltz of the Flowers,” Kraynik-Muselin says the dancers perform bourrée steps on their knees and the dancers performing to the “Arabian” section of music are like that of a snake charmer’s snakes.
“I like to have fun with my choreography because there are so many ways you can go with The Nutcracker,” says Kraynik-Muselin.
Danced to a slightly altered recorded version of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic original score for the 2-act ballet, Kraynik-Muselin sees her production as foremost a traditional love story. In it, protagonist Clara Stahlbaum along with the Nutcracker transform at the end of act one from child and doll into adult characters who fall in love.
“The second act journey in the ‘Land of the Sweets’ is really the transformed Nutcracker presenting the woman he loves to his friends and family so to speak,” says Kraynik-Muselin.
The character of adult Clara that will be danced by guest artist Lauren Hamilton McConnell, formerly of Ballet Theatre of Indiana, also doubles as the Sugar Plum Fairy role in the second act, and the transformed Nutcracker, performed by guest artist Kobe Ritter, doubles as her Cavalier.
The production will feature a cast of forty including area student dancers, some from Jam Dance Academy, along with Ballet Legato’s company dancers and apprentices, several local professional dancers including Ron’Dale J Simpson of Blakk Jakk Dance Collective and Eliza Frye of The Movement Project, and several other guest artists including Rachel Dart from Pittsburgh and Domonique Glover formerly of Toledo Ballet.
In addition to repurposing her unique choreography from the Jam Dance Academy production, Kraynik-Muselin is also repurposing that production’s backdrops, set pieces, and costumes for Ballet Legato’s along with creating new costuming.
For those this holiday season looking for a Nutcracker production that combines tradition with the unconventional, Ballet Legato’s inaugural The Nutcracker is one to check out.
Ballet Legato performs The Nutcracker, 7 p.m., Saturday, December 18, Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center, 1005 N. Abbe Road, Elyria, Ohio. Tickets are $25.00 Orchestra; $20.00 Mezzanine; $5.00 discount for either section for children 12 and under, students, and seniors 65+. Call (440) 366-4040 or visit lorainccc.edu/stocker for tickets. Stocker Arts Center requires all patrons to wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.