In Act I of The Nutcracker ballet, the striking of a magical clock brings to life the dolls Uncle Drosselmeyer has brought to his niece Clara’s party.
The Festival Ballet of North Texas, originally created in 1979 by founder Hugh Nini, has shared its version of the favorite holiday ballet with audiences across Denton County for 30 years.
The inspiration for The Nutcracker ballet comes from a tale of E.T. A. Hoffmann, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, first published in Germany in 1816.
This dark, gothic fairy tale was at first thought by eventual composer Tchaikovsky unsuitable for a ballet. However, in 1890 he was offered the opportunity to compose a ballet based on a newer, French version of the tale adapted by Alexandre Dumas, entitled Casse-Noisette. Completed in the spring of 1892, The Nutcracker was first performed on Dec. 18, 1892 at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Decades ago, Artistic Director Emeritus Nini gathered his dancers, volunteers and parents to transport this ballet to local school auditoriums. He knew in his heart that children needed to have the opportunity to see live ballet theater starring local friends and talent.
“When I set out to choreograph my version of ‘Nutcracker,’ I took almost eight years to formulate how I wanted to tell this story through ballet,” said Nini recently.
He added that he made some clear departures from the familiar “traditional” versions.
“I didn’t do these for the sake of being ‘different,’ though,” he explained. “I did them to strengthen an already good story.”
For instance, his Uncle Drosselmeyer is very different from the traditional one; and, the way he’s woven into the story is very different. Another departure from tradition are the Dolls.
“In every ‘Nutcracker,’ they are brought out during the Party Scene and then gone after that,” Nini said. “Mine reappear.”
Interest grew in this holiday classic since its premier in 1988 and now The Nutcracker ballet is an annual tradition performed at the Tree Lighting Festival in Denton and at the Margo Jones Performance Hall on the campus of Texas Woman’s University.
The Festival Ballet’s The Nutcracker is the longest-running full-length, production in the North Texas region. Houston Ballet, the fourth largest professional company in the country, has only been performing its current “Nutcracker” since 2004.
Now under the stage direction of Eldar Valiev, Festival Ballet of North Texas’s The Nutcracker represents the diverse art forms of set design, costumes, lights, sound, theatrical expression; and, of course, as dancers of Nini’s choreography.
Valiev graduated from the famous Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. He received additional training at the Kirov Ballet Company. He has more than 20-years of experience as a professional ballet dancer and 15-years of experience as a ballet master.
He moved to Denton in August 2011, to assume the position of Co-Artistic Director of Festival Ballet of North Central Texas, located at 637 Londonderry Lane in Denton, as well as that of Director of Denton Ballet Academy.
“My sincere gratitude to all of those who participate in our production of The Nutcracker this year,” said Valiev. “It is a great happiness and privilege to lead and to work with such wonderful people: from the youngest dancer to the professionals; our rehearsal assistants, volunteers and coordinators. I’m honored, grateful and blessed to be a part of this magnificent production. Happy 30th Anniversary everyone!”
“I used to watch this production of ‘Nutcracker’ and dream of someday performing in
it,” said Julianne Allen, 15, of Krum. “Now after dancing in it for nine years I’m still super excited to perform my role. Dancing the role of Clara is such an honor, especially after watching so many other talented ballerinas dance the part.”
Sharing the role of Clara is Reece Domingue, 15, of Denton.
“This production has been a huge part of my life for 9 years,” she said. “I am honored to dance the role of Clara and help bring the magic to the stage once again for the 30th anniversary performance.”
Returning to the stage as principal dancers will be Marta Petkova as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nikola Hadjitanev as her Cavalier from the Sofia National Opera and Ballet in Sofia, Bulgaria.
One of the many local returning dancers is Ivy Adams, 15, of Lantana. She’s a third-generation participant; her grandmother sews costumes and her mother, Jennifer, is on the administrative team behind the scenes. They represent all the volunteers needed to stage the production, including all the technical areas– except lighting and sound.
“The first time I saw The Nutcracker was in 2007, when I was 5 years old,” said Adams. “I was mesmerized by the beautiful dancing of Chloe Reecer in the role of Clara. I told my mom after the show that I would like to be Clara one day and wear that red dress. Last year, 2016, my dream of playing the role of Clara came true.”
In this year’s production, her 10th year performing, she’ll be dancing the role of an Arabian Princess partnered by Matt Moulds.
“The role is very challenging,” Adams said. “As a dancer, you need to have lots of flexibility to pull off the role. Matt makes the difficult lifts seem easy; and, I know that he will support me through the dance.”
The 30th annual production will have more than 200 dancers. While two dancers will split the role of Clara, one dancer will perform two roles in her fifth-year with the production.
“This year I was cast as a Snowflake and the Rose Queen,” said Whitney Hart, a professional dancer from Highland Village. “I have always enjoyed performing alongside the other cast members at Festival Ballet. I currently perform with companies throughout the Dallas and Fort Worth Metroplex, as well as freelance at entertainment industrials.”
Nini said the 2017 production is part of the legacy of The Nutcracker.
“There are 30 years of history,” he said. “Dancers of the past three decades have left an impression on all of these roles that informs the performances of today’s dancers; a gesture, an arm movement, a glance or look, or a stretched arabesque, the production is full of little moments created by the dancers who came before.”
It is very rewarding to see how this production has enriched the lives of its dancers and the fine arts experience for thousands of Denton students.
The 30th anniversary season of The Nutcracker ballet performances will be held on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 2:30 p.m., at the Margo Jones Performance Hall on the TWU campus at 1322 Oakland Street in Denton.
Tickets for the performances are $20, $30 and $40 and are available at: www.festivalballet.net, or at the Dance Boutique, 637 Londonderry Ln. in Denton, 940-484-5096 or 940-891-0830.
Additional information will be posted on the Festival Ballet of North Central Texas Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FestivalBalletofNorthCentralTexas/
The Nutcracker Area Dancers
From Argyle: Bentley Coulter, 7; Allie Holt, 8; Hartley Johnson, 8; Cate and Roman Joumagan, 6; Aoife Joumagan, 8; Maura Joumagan, 11; Mallory Kuykendall, 8; Harper Lowe, 9; Rosie Mitchell, 6; Rachel West, 10; and, adults– Karen Schoeve, Samat Valiev, plus Eldar Valiev, artistic director.
From Bartonville: Gabriella Catino, 14.
From Double Oak: Mia DeMent and Hannah Griffin, both 5.
From Flower Mound: Jacqueline Fleeks, 9; Keegan Hart, 11; Treyton Hart, 9; Xander Hart, 13; Giselle Weldele, 6.
From Highland Village: Julia Stoner, 7 and Whitney Hart, adult.
From Lantana: Ivy Adams, 15; Rosie Adams, 12; Cassidy Cole, 14.
Special thanks to Jennifer Adams for assistance with this article.