New Haven Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ features about 190 performers at Shubert

December 10, 2017 GMT

New Haven Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” sports the fresh talent of its young dancers (many are teens, but others are as young as 5), along with the seasoned presence of featured lead dancers from Miami and New York, artistic director Lisa Sanborn said.“Simone (Messmer) is principal dancer with the Miami City Ballet and she is exquisite and has agreed to return (as the Sugar Plum Fairy). And Stephen Hanna (as the Cavalier) is a Broadway star; he’s been starring most recently in ‘Hello Dolly.’ But he’s a former principal of New York City Ballet. ... So we’re excited to have them,” Sanborn said in a recent phone interview.If you haven’t seen the annual classic in a while (or ever), it’s adapted from a story called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” The dance version is about a girl named Clara, beginning at a house party at Christmastime. A nutcracker toy gift is accidentally broken. At midnight, Clara’s dream comes alive as she helps an oversized Nutcracker battle the Mouse King. The Nutcracker turns into a prince and they journey to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy.Sanborn said it’s a traditional “Nutcracker” in the sense that Clara is a little girl and the story is centered around a children’s production, which hasn’t changed from year to year.“However, we have different dancers every year. And, for us, artistically, it’s exciting to choreograph each of the ... pieces for the dancers performing that year. So, even though the Tchaikovsky score is the same music that everyone loves and is familiar with, all of the choreography is fresh and new and created (for) the dancers performing this year.”While the New Haven Ballet works within the classical repertoire, Sanborn said, the show has “a visual aesthetic that is constantly changing as far as what audiences want to see and what we want to see and what dancers are physically able to do.”Have dancers changed in ability over the years?“If you look at our dancers today, they are artistically and technically much more advanced and able to do many more things than what dancers were able to do even five or 10 years ago,” Sanborn said. “The dancers are highly trained athletes, as well as artists.”Sanborn estimated there are about 180 dancers in this production and 10 singers from the Educational Center for the Arts, who sing in the choir for the “Snow Waltz.” As for the sets, including the oversized Christmas tree, Sanborn said they’re a large, changing element, too, along with several new props, costumes and special effects.Every ballet company worth its salt does “The Nutcracker,” which can provide a good chunk of annual ticket revenue, not to mention focus for dancers in training. This weekend alone, Connecticut Ballet’s “Nutcracker” returns to the Palace Theatre in Stamford for four performances Saturday and Sunday, and the Nutmeg Conservatory of the Arts presents its version both days at The Bushnell in Hartford. (There’s also “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” with guest MC Kurtis Blow on Sunday at The Bushnell’s William H. Mortensen Hall.)Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” was at Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford last weekend, as well, not to mention Albano’s version at Mohegan Sun.“The primary difference between our production and the Russian production is: We are a children’s theater with a children’s production,” Sanborn said. “And when families come in to see our ‘Nutcracker,’ in the beautiful and historic Shubert Theatre, children envision themselves (in the story). Our Clara is a little girl; our Nutcracker prince is a little boy. It isn’t an adult dancer.”jamarante@nhregister.com; @Joeammo on Twitter