DTLA – Signs of the arrival of the holidays in Downtown Los Angeles include the opening of the Pershing Square ice rink and the proliferation of wreaths and holly under sunny skies. This week, there’s another surefire indicator: the debut of a new version of Tchaikovsky’s iconic ballet The Nutcracker.
The Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center series is bringing a world premiere production to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 7-10. Tickets to the six performances (including three matinees) start at $34.
The Music Center co-commissioned a new version of The Nutcracker from the esteemed Miami City Ballet. The two-act show builds upon choreographer George Balanchine’s 1954 version of the ballet, with the lead roles of Marie and the Nutcracker played by children.
The ballet follows Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky’s 1892 story of a young girl who gets a toy nutcracker for Christmas and soon witnesses an invasion of mice led by the villainous Mouse King. When the Nutcracker comes alive, Marie is caught up in the battle between two armies and a journey to the Land of Sweets. It is all told through dance, and the Downtown production will include a live orchestra, updated sets and costumes, and a bevy of young performers from the Colburn School and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.
The Miami City Ballet has been performing Balachine’s Nutcracker since the company’s inception 27 years ago, but recognized that their production was built for a small theater, according to Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez. She and other Miami City Ballet leaders realized it was time to mount a new version.
“The Nutcracker is supposed to be this, maybe not lavish, but big holiday spectacle. It didn’t look that way,” Lopez said. “I had this idea of inviting artists to create these sets and costumes for the company.”
Cuban-American artists Ruben and Isabel Toledo were tapped to design the new production, and created colorful, pastel-toned costumes and sets inspired by Cuban art. The company is employing modern stagecraft, including projections that help enhance the atmosphere of the show, such as when the Mouse King’s armies spill out of the “walls” of Marie’s house.
It has been five years since a version of The Nutcracker was last staged at the Dorothy Chandler, according to Music Center President and CEO Rachael Moore. She noted that many major cities have a production of the ballet every year, and felt the Music Center was missing a key cultural element. The opportunity to bring a new Miami City Ballet production to Downtown made sense for both arts organizations, she said.
“The Miami City Ballet is a wonderful company doing the Balanchine production, and one of the most diverse ballet companies in the country,” Moore said. “There’s a natural synergy between their commitment to diversity and with Los Angeles being one of the most diverse counties in the country.”
The new production is rooted in the period setting of the story. Lopez said that the Toledos crafted costumes heavy in lace and tweed for the “real world” scenes set during the Industrial Revolution. Lopez compared the first act to traditional theater, with an emphasis on darker, earthier colors when the plot is set in Marie’s family home at Christmas.
In the second act, set in the fantastical Land of Sweets, the Toledos let the color explode, Lopez said. She pointed to the bright tones in the Sugar Plum Fairy’s costumes and the vibrant sets as the kingdom’s citizens dance.
The production lives up to the spectacle Lopez envisioned. Nearly 100 performers are involved, with 40 members of the Miami City Ballet working with 50 children from the Colburn School, the locally based Gabriella Foundation’s everybody dance! program, plus the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. There are two casts of children, part of an effort to allow a greater number of kids to participate, Lopez said.
The dance directors at the Colburn School, Jennifer Ringer and James Fayette, are both former dancers at the New York City Ballet, which also performs Balanchine’s Nutcracker. Lopez said that the shared background offered a layer of comfort to the production, as the children would be trained by people familiar with the choreography.
Both Lopez and Moore noted the widespread appeal of The Nutcracker, and enthused about its ability to introduce more people to the art form.
“The Nutcracker is one of those things that’s sort of like the Rockettes,” Moore said. “People go year after year. It’s a way to attract kids and families. We jokingly call it a ‘gateway ballet.’”
That gateway is enjoyed by all generations, Moore added, as parents who grew up seeing it bring their children. Moore said she hopes that the ballet becomes an annual event at the Music Center.
The Nutcracker runs Dec. 7-10 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., (213) 972-0711 or musiccenter.org.