Shira Lanyi leads Richmond Ballet dancers in The Nutcracker. Richmond Ballet 2008. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Shira Lanyi leads Richmond Ballet dancers in The Nutcracker. Richmond Ballet 2008. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.


By Leona Baker

It’s easy to be jaded by the commercialism of the holidays. But there are a few December traditions that truly embody the pure magic of the season. The Nutcracker is one of those.

From the ubiquitous strains of Tchaikovsky’s lush score to the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier in the Kingdom of Sweets, The Nutcracker, originally choreographed in 1892, has become synonymous with both Christmas and ballet as an art form.

Like all story ballets, The Nutcracker is part technical super-feat and part pageantry—a perfect marriage of the precision and artistry of classical dance and a feast of sets and costumes designed to transport the audience to a world of unadulterated fantasy. Richmond Ballet’s Nutcracker, coming to Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall December 6-8, delivers the goods on all counts.

Just weeks ago, Richmond Ballet’s professional company marked its 30th anniversary with an ambitious celebration that included three ballets: George Balanchine’s Serenade, Salvatore Aiello’s Rite of Spring and Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free. Nightly standing ovations and at least one review that noted the company’s place as a “force in the dance world” that should leave patrons “feeling proud of ballet, proud of Richmond and proud of Virginia” are undoubtedly well deserved.

Over three decades, Artistic Director Stoner Winslett and her team have transformed the company into a powerhouse on par with those in major metropolitan cities around the country. They’ve done so through a commitment to technical excellence and training young dancers, but also by presenting vital new dance works alongside the classics—and dependable revenue generators—like The Nutcracker.

In 2003, Winslett re-imagined The Nutcracker by creating a new version that integrates the first act party scene in which young Clara receives a nutcracker as a gift with the second act, which typically features a series of treat-inspired divertissements for Clara, her Nutcracker Prince and the audience to enjoy.

“What she tried to do was to keep it entertaining for kids of all ages from the beginning to the end of the production,” explains Brett Bonda, a former company member and now Managing Director. “And I think she has done a masterful job. Every Nutcracker is a little bit different, but you still have Clara and the Prince and Drosselmeyer and the Battle Scene and the Snow Scene and the Chinese Dance and the Russian Dance—all of the same elements.”

The last time Richmond Ballet performed their “new” Nutcracker in Norfolk was in 2009 at Chrysler Hall. The upcoming performances will feature the Virginia Symphony in the pit for all four shows.

In addition to Richmond Ballet’s full professional company and a host of elaborate sets and costumes, approximately 80 young dance students from around Hampton Roads will be featured in the Norfolk production. These students represent 18 local dance studios and fill a variety of roles including mice, flowers, soldiers and Mother Ginger’s children, who emerge from beneath a giant skirt in one of the ballet’s most iconic images. Todd Rosenlieb Dance in downtown Norfolk is serving as the host studio for local rehearsals leading up to the production.

“That’s one of the things that we are really proud of,” says Bonda. “The opportunity for these students to interact with professional dancers and to perform onstage with a conductor right in front of them playing live music—it’s an experience that’s really unique and that hopefully will transform their lives.”
So, why has this holiday tradition stood the test of time? The music and the magic, notes Bonda, and the chance for people to come together.

“It is a multigenerational production and performance. You have grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids coming all together because it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can enjoy The Nutcracker.”

As part of the company’s 30th Anniversary Season, Richmond Ballet is also selling a commemorative children’s book, Richmond Ballet – the Nutcracker, as told by the Sugar Plum Fairy, Valerie Tellmann, written by a long-time Richmond Ballet dancer. The book will be available for purchase before all Nutcracker performances.

The Nutcracker
Chrysler Hall
Friday, December 6, 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 7, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, December 8, 2 p.m.
Clara’s Tea Party
Saturday, December 7, 4 p.m.
Tickets to The Nutcracker and to Clara’s Tea Party are available in person at the Scope Box Office, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, or online at Ticketmaster.com.