Local Nutcracker ballet productions
Each year various groups present The Nutcracker ballet in Greenville including our own Greenville Ballet. Sometimes it seems like there are more and more productions each year! This year a local dance school that doesn’t even use the word “ballet” in its name premiered their version at Furman University. Here is a brief history and explanation.
When we (Andrew and Merry Kuharsky) first came to Greenville in 1980, Susan Gunning Volwiler’s Greenville Concert Ballet was doing an annual Nutcracker production at Furman. I suggested starting a better one, but the board of directors of Carolina Ballet Theatre and its executive director Barbara Selvy did not want to compete against the existing one. A few years later, when we left Barbara Selvy and CBT, we did our first Nutcracker productions in conjunction with the Augusta Ballet; first at Anderson University in 1984 and then at Furman in 1985. By 1985 the Greenville Concert Ballet had gone defunct and members of their board of directors joined forces with us to create the Greenville Ballet. When the Peace Center opened in 1990 we took the production there, had new sets built locally, purchased costumes from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and hired the Greenville Symphony Orchestra to provide live music. The Executive Director of the Peace Center said he didn’t see why there would ever be more than one Nutcracker ballet there, but soon Carolina Ballet Theatre finally decided that it would do a Nutcracker after all (I wonder why?), and now there were two competing productions. Not long after, a third production by the Children’s Dance Ensemble made it three competing productions. Here I must interject my first explanation. The Nutcracker can serve as a vehicle for letting many children perform on stage and selling a lot of tickets to family and friends. This third production auditioned children with no training and put them on pointe in the production (read about the dangers of that here). It also was basically 16 children running around during the Arabian dance, 16 children running around during the Spanish dance, 16 children … well, you get the picture.
In 2002, when I took a college teaching job in Ohio for a year, the Greenville Ballet board of directors put on their own Nutcracker ballet without my help. This led to Columbia City Ballet doing Nutcracker here for the next two years pretending to be from Greenville, and then led to what is now International Ballet, run by Greenville Ballet’s former Executive Director. We moved our Nutcracker production back to Furman in 2003 realizing that raising the money needed to hire dancers, pay for the Symphony, and pay for the Peace Center (over $60,000), as well as asking people to pay $40-50 for tickets was no longer the best solution. Our high-quality production with musical choreography, beautiful scenery and costumes, and a story line that makes sense and can be followed by the audience continues to feature Greenville’s best-trained student dancers and a few guest artists.
This year my wife and I attended the two productions of The Nutcracker ballet at the Peace Center as well as producing our own. It made us very proud of our own. In ours, when the music changes, the dancing changes. When the music soars to a climax, the action soars to a climax. When the music obviously portrays a certain action or character, that’s what’s happening (hey other choreographers: the action is notated in Tchaikovsky’s score!). Trying to update the story line to make it seem like some of it is happening in Greenville in the 21st century while other parts seem to be in the 19th century just helps confuse the issue. Is it Drosselmeyer’s dream or Clara’s; who can tell? Another production sold very well thanks to the Greenville Symphony and good marketing. The students were well schooled in simple steps and patterns, but most of the adequate soloists were from the Governor’s School or USC’s dance program. Again not much of a logical story line that can be followed, and also not much opportunity for the young dancers to be challenged or do more than the corps de ballet parts.
We would love it if other people saw all three productions to see the qualitative differences in choreography, musicality, story telling, and talented students. We give our talented students a chance to really dance; even the youngest and least experienced do a lot more than run across the stage a few times. We recently had someone call for tickets who said they had gone to one of the other productions last year and they said, “boy was that a mistake.” We also had a letter from someone visiting from New York who said they had seen New York City Ballet and other professional productions, and thoroughly enjoyed ours and that we should be very proud of what we do with the resources we have. We are.