By Tara Bennett
A combination of the music of Peter Tchaikovsky, the classic feel of old Louisiana and dancing performed by the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre (BRBT) make for a Christmas tradition that celebrates the community.
BRBT will present its annual production of “The Nutcracker – A Tale from the Bayou,” with four performances on Saturday, Dec. 20 and Sunday, Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The original ballet, based on the 19th-century tale by E.T.A. Hoffman, is about a young girl named Clara, who is given a nutcracker by her Uncle Drosselmeyer. The nutcracker comes to life on Christmas Eve to defeat the evil Mouse King and whisks Clara away to his home in the Kingdom of the Sweets.
According to BRBT Artistic Director Molly Buchmann, “The Nutcracker – A Tale from the Bayou” was created in the early 1990s with BRBT co-artistic director Sharon Mathews. What sets their ballet apart from other productions of The Nutcracker is incorporating a little bit of a Southern flair to the show.
“We envisioned it as a young girl of Louisiana, Clara, on a bayou listening to the Nutcracker score on a wind up gramophone with a beautiful bayou scene,” said Buchmann. “Her parrain is reading her the story of the Nutcracker as she listens to the music, and as she falls asleep, she dreams the story we see on stage. So that device allowed us to use Louisiana settings.”
BRBT’s sets for “The Nutcracker” were created by Nels Anderson, formerly of the LSU Department of Theatre faculty, and puts a different spin on the story, because the sets include landmarks of the south. This combination of classic and familiar includes using snow falling on Oak Alley, the antebellum Nottoway Plantation as the scene for Clara’s home and Baton Rouge’s own Old State Capitol as the castle for the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“Our sets are an important part of the production,” said Buchmann. “We kept a lot of things traditional so that our audience would get the best of both worlds. They would have the grandeur of the traditional Nutcracker with the local tie-ins.”
Dancing in “The Nutcracker – A Tale from the Bayou” this year will be Dance Theatre of Harlem company member, Alison Stroming. This will be Stroming’s second appearance in Baton Rouge after the guest company kicked off BRBT’s main stage season this past October. Joining Stroming is former soloist with American Ballet Theatre and current Ballet Master at ABT Studio Company, Carlos Lopez. Stroming and Lopez will perform the lead roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.
South Louisiana natives and former BRBT company members, Le’Brian Patrick and Meredith Broussard, will also return as professional guest artists in “The Nutcracker – A Tale from the Bayou.” Patrick will dance the roles of The Nutcracker and Arabian Prince, and Broussard will reprise her roles as Azalea Fairy and Doll.
In addition to these guest artists, the production will feature the local talent of BRBT company dancers, and approximately 300 area children. Music for the production will be performed live by the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra.
“Hundreds of artists and community members come together to create this magical theatre experience on a grand scale each year,” said Buchmann. “It’s our gift to Baton Rouge. It becomes a very festive occasion backstage and around the theatre because everyone loves doing this every year.”
Tickets range from $20 to $55 and are available through Ticketmaster, the River Center Box Office, or by calling the BRBT office at 225-766-8379. Ticketmaster is the only authorized online retailer for BRBT performances.