'The Nutcracker' will be all new in 2011
By David Lyman • Enquirer contributor • December 26, 2010
The Cincinnati Ballet will debut a new $1.6 million production of "The Nutcracker" in December 2011.
It will be by far the most costly production in the 47-year history of the Cincinnati Ballet. As with all five of the company's earlier productions of "The Nutcracker" - the first one opened in 1974 - the primary sponsor will be Frisch's Restaurants, with a contribution in excess of $600,000.
The current $500,000 production premiered in 2001. Ballet artistic director/CEO Victoria Morgan says the company already has firm commitments for $1.28 million.
The ballet's current version of "The Nutcracker" by San Francisco choreographer Val Caniparoli ended its run Sunday at the Aronoff Center. The new production will also be performed at the Aronoff , but is expected to return to Music Hall when that building's renovation is complete.
"A new production of 'The Nutcracker' is an essential investment for the company," Morgan says. "We expect that it will last for 15 years. So it's important that it be as durable as it is beautiful. Not only will it be used dozens of times here in Cincinnati every year, but we hope that it will be a production that we can tour extensively."
"The Nutcracker" accounts for more than 50 percent of the company's annual ticket sales. Likewise, it represents nearly all of the company's touring revenue. In recent years, the company has taken "The Nutcracker" to Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis and Anchorage, Alaska.
The current production's last tour was to Detroit in 2009. A new production will provide out-of-town presenters with an incentive to bring the company back, Morgan said.
The new "Nutcracker" will have 15 sets designed by John Ezell and painted at the Michael Hagen studios in South Glens Falls, N.Y. Hagen's company has painted more than 20 productions of "The Nutcracker," including American Ballet Theatre's much-heralded new production.
Costumes by Tony Award-nominated designer Carrie Robbins will be constructed by Cincinnati Ballet's wardrobe department with assistance from Playhouse in the Park and Cincinnati-based Madcap Puppets. Members of IATSE (stagehands' union) working in the Cincinnati Ballet's shop will construct the largest set pieces and props.
"I've been dancing in 'The Nutcracker' since I was 8 years old," says Morgan, 59. "And I couldn't even begin to tell you how many different versions of the ballet that I have seen. I have enough ideas for a dozen new productions. I can't wait to get started."
Morgan has already started. In early November, she began choreographing various scenes with principal dancers Janessa Touchet and Oðulcan Borova.
For die-hard lovers of "The Nutcracker," most of the familiar elements will be there: a Christmas tree that grows to massive proportions, a battle between mice and toy soldiers, dancing snowflakes and several divertissements by characters from around the globe.
Morgan's new version will include some decidedly different twists. Among them:
The leading role of Clara - the current production calls her "Marie" - will be played by an 11-13-year-old girl instead of by an adult dancer.
Replacing the ever-popular Mother Ginger will be a massive Mother Hen with 8 tiny dancing chicks.
Instead of Mirlitons (dancing flutes), there will be fluffy characters called Mirlipoos, which bear a resemblance to Morgan's miniature poodle, Teddy Moe.
"In many ways, this will be a very traditional production," Morgan says. "But since this is often a child's introduction to live performance, I think it's important that it be filled with fun from the opening curtain to the very end."
As with all of the company's previous productions, there will be countless small roles performed by children. But Morgan says that her new production will have more children's roles than ever - 100-plus - in addition to more young gymnasts. The current production has 84 children's roles.
According to Frisch's president and CEO Craig Maier, his company's commitment to the ballet originated with Blanche Maier, his late mother, a longtime member of both Frisch's and the ballet's boards.
"My dad (Jack Maier) understood the business aspect of this kind of contribution, but in this case, the ballet was my mom's absolute favorite thing."
Maier added that the family will continue to honor their mother's memory. "As long as we (the Maier family) control how the checks are written from Frisch's, we will continue to be the sponsor for 'The Nutcracker'."
Besides its annual advertising contribution - estimated at more than $80,000 as recently as 2008 - Frisch's has made annual contributions to "The Nutcracker" endowment.