Tis The Season To Be Enchanted: Atlanta Ballet’s NUTCRACKER Still Magical in its 56th Year

Posted on: Dec 20th, 2015 By:
Claire Stallman and Jonah Hooper. Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Claire Stallman and Jonah Hooper. Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

THE NUTCRACKER by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Atlanta Ballet. Fox Theatre, Dec. 11-27, Tickets here.

By Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

One of the sad truths of 2015 is the fact that it has become more and more difficult to find Atlanta traditions that have been around for longer than 20 or so years. For a city with so many beloved institutions, a good number of them have shut their doors or faded into obscurity in recent years. This is certainly not the case for the Atlanta Ballet’s annual production of THE NUTCRACKER, which is entering its 56th year of performances. One may be likely to think that the many years behind this Christmas mainstay would lead it to be stale and outdated, but the opposite could not be more true. The Atlanta Ballet’s NUTCRACKER is just as fresh and exciting as it was 56 years ago, and is a performance that should not be missed by anyone who considers themselves a true Atlantan.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Opening night was nothing short of packed, with attendees ranging from toddlers to grandparents out in their finest Christmas garb. Simply sitting in the audience prior to showtime was an experience in and of itself: the painted backdrop hanging onstage is breathtaking in its intricacy, and the warm, intricate design of the Fox only adds to the serene atmosphere. The audience, buzzing with anticipation, began to cheer and whisper as Drosselmeyer took the stage.

Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s original score is brought to life with help from the Atlanta Ballet orchestra, and the story of a young girl and her enchanted nutcracker doll is given a slight update to help the familiar tale remain fresh and engaging. Artistic director John McFall made the choice to age up the protagonist from a pre-teen girl to a young woman, and she subsequently plays a more active role in the action surrounding her. (Many readers will recall how her defeat of the Rat King usually involves her throwing a slipper at his head. In 2015, she

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

wields a sword instead). The setting of this production, which is typically a generic European Christmas of centuries past, is now set firmly in 1850s Russia, and the beautiful, elaborate costumes of the party guests in the first act show how much time and research the set designers and costumers took in bringing McFall’s vision to life. As the story progresses, the stage is transformed into a Winter Wonderland, complete with snow for the audience, and only becomes more charming from that point on.

The performances of the dancers itself are so breathtaking that it is almost hard to put into words. Each performer, no matter how large or small the role, gives it their all, and there was not a weak link to be seen. Old favorites, such as the Trepak dancers and the Mother Matrushka, make appearances, much to the audience’s delight. The dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, as performed by Rachel Van Buskirk and Christian Clark, might just be the greatest ballet performance this writer has ever witnessed in her life. Buying tickets for THE NUTCRACKER is worth it just to see this number alone. It is seriously that good.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Photo by C. McCullers. Courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

An astounding cast, intricately beautiful sets and costumes, and a unique take on a classic tale all come together perfectly in Atlanta Ballet’s 2015 production of THE NUTCRACKER. If you’re looking to experience both a piece of Atlanta history and a ballet production unlike any other, be sure to get your tickets to THE NUTCRACKER sooner than later.

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Tis The Season for a Love Bite: 10 Tantalizing and Terrifying Reasons to Take Your Valentine to the Atlanta Ballet’s DRACULA

Posted on: Feb 11th, 2013 By:

L-R: Mina (Nadia Mara), Dracula (John Welker) and Lucy (Rachel Van Buskirk) in the Atlanta Ballet's production of Michael Pink's DRACULA. Photo credit: Charlie McCullers.

Last Friday night, ATLRetro had the phantasmagoric pleasure of experiencing the Atlanta Ballet‘s production of Michael Pink’s DRACULA, which plays through Feb. 16 at Cobb Energy Centre. The ballet has now become almost as much of a Valentine’s Day tradition for the company as it’s performances of THE NUTCRACKER are quintessential to an Atlanta Christmas.

Like Seven Stages’ DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, (which we reviewed here) this version hues surpisingly close to Stoker’s novel, especially in the first act (Harker’s seduction by Dracula’s three brides on a bed will be familiar to rock opera attendees) and even reinstating the American cowboy character of Quincey, though it keeps the characters in London for the climax. In the Atlanta Ballet’s version, however, Dracula runs a fine line of both sexual predator and charmingly seductive, appropriate for a Valentine’s production of a vampire story. Yes, we admit getting being much more hot and bothered when the Count seduces Mina in an electrifying erotic dance than we ever have been seeing a glittered-up Robert Pattinson sinking his teeth into a perpetually bored Kristen Stewart.

So in celebration of this now-Atlanta tradition, we asked the Atlanta Ballet if it could unbury a few behind-the-scenes secrets…

1. Michael Pink’s DRACULA had its world premiere in September 16, 1996, in Bradford Alhambra, England by the Northern Ballet Theatre in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s novel.

2. Production has been seen by over a half a million people worldwide since the world premiere.

3. Atlanta Ballet presented the North American premiere of DRACULA in 1998, and the production broke Atlanta Ballet box office records. The record was then broken again the following season when the company restaged the work for an encore presentation.

4. Dancers who portray Dracula receive additional pay for performing stunts of extraordinary risk.

Dracula (John Welker) and Jonathan Harker (Brian Wallenberg) in the Atlanta Ballet production of Michael Pink's DRACULA. Photo credit: Charlie McCullers.

5. Dancers in the production wear hand-tied wigs costing over $2,000.

6. It takes at least an hour and a half for the dancer performing Dracula to get in costume and makeup, and at least 15 minutes of work after each performance to remove the makeup and wig.

7. Artistic Director John McFall performed the role of Renfield in the Company’s original production in 1998.

8. David Grill, lighting designer of Michael Pink’s DRACULA, has designed the lighting for numerous Super Bowl halftime shows, including Beyonce‘s performance at this year’s showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.

9. Nick Dudman [blood] is the “drink” of choice for Atlanta Ballet’s Dracula. Dudman Blood was created by costume and special effects director Nick Dudman whose film credits include the HARRY POTTER series, STAR WARS V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, BATMAN, ALIEN 3 and INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE.  It’s apparently the most realistic blood on the market.

10. There are about 40 dancers cast in Atlanta Ballet’s production of Dracula.

BONUS 11: “My favorite scene is the Dracula and Harker part at the end of Act 1,” says Brian Wallenberg, who plays Jonathan Harker in Cast A. “Whether I’m dancing it or not, it’s just one of the best parts of the Ballet. It’s the most fun experience that a character goes through.”

To find out more and purchase tickets to the Atlanta Ballet’s DRACULA, click here.

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