Crackin' Open An Old Chestnut
The Nutcracker Says Farewell to the Fabulous Fox and Hello to Cobb Energy Centre

By Lee Valentine Smith

For many, seeing the Atlanta Ballet's production of The Nutcracker at the Fabulous Fox is an enduring holiday tradition. But this year's season is especially unique as the Ballet performs its latest production of The Nutcracker at two very different venues. Late last month, the company made its Washington debut at The Kennedy Center for a successful seven-performance run in D.C.

Now the Ballet is back in town for a final run of performances at the Fox before moving to its new home at the Cobb Energy Centre. Choreographed by internationally known dance guru Yuri Possokhov, the revitalized production has exceeded all previous records in the Atlanta Ballet's Nutcracker history.

Recently INsite sat down with Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin while the stage was literally being set for The Nutcracker's final run at the Fox.

The show has just returned from the Kennedy Center. How did it go?

It was very successful. The Nutcracker is a family tradition in the United States for the holiday season. But there are also a number of Nutcracker-type events to choose from, as you know. So in a city as big as D.C., there were many different versions of it available at the same time. But we were extremely happy and pleased the Washington audiences decided to come to Kennedy Center to see our Nutcracker. It was full houses throughout the entire week. It was gratifying to us that they chose to come see us and maybe learn a little about the Atlanta Ballet and what we do here. We had standing ovations at every performance!

How did the Kennedy Center run happen? Did they invite you to perform there?

We'd been having conversations for some time, keeping each other informed of things. Then representatives from Kennedy Center came down to Atlanta to see the opening performances last year in December. They saw how wonderful our production was and they invited us to come bring our Nutcracker to them this year.

You mentioned a very important fact about the show. There are a lot of Nutcrackers to choose from each year in any given city, including Atlanta.

That's right. People have to make the decision of which one they want to see. It can be a hard choice without having seen that particular production. But I think, based on the reaction of the audiences and the journalists, Atlanta audiences will be interested to come see us again as well. In comparison, Washington audiences are a bit spoiled, not with just Nutcracker, but with all the ballets and companies and art forms that come there. To see how excited the audiences were to see our performances made me really proud of what we have here in Atlanta. Here too, there are a lot of schools and small companies who use the word Nutcracker for their performances but none really can come close to the scale of what we have to offer.

Seeing The Nutcracker at the Fox is a long-standing tradition of local holiday theater.

But it's important to note that it's not just the Fox Theater's Nutcracker. It's the Atlanta Ballet's production of The Nutcracker that runs at the Fox. The Fox provides us with the stage and has for twenty-five years. But before that it was at another venue and next year it's moving to the Cobb Energy Center so it's more of the production, not the venue. The Washington Post said we are one of the best Nutcrackers out there and they saw us at Kennedy Center. I believe it's the one that will fulfil the audiences the most as a traditional ballet, no matter where it's actually presented.

Obviously the great reviews and attendance speaks for the creative validity of the production itself.

Correct, it's the same one we mounted at Kennedy Center and the one we'll do at the Fox and then next year it moves to Cobb. It'll be an entirely new challenge to present it there. The stages are so different. Next year will just be an extension of what we've done here.

It must be exciting to be doing this particular production with an eye to revamping it next year.

It is. Travelling from Washington to Atlanta has really helped me to see the restrictions we are dealing with now while looking forward to being able to breathe somewhat more freely within a larger space.

The more modern Cobb stage is vastly different than the somewhat limited Fox stage.

It is, it's much deeper. We need more depth on the stage. The Fox was built more to feature a movie screen, so it's really wide but it lacks the depth needed for a ballet-type production. Even though we were creating with the Fox in mind, everything got so squeezed and so tight, it's somewhat challenging to fly things in and out.

At Cobb, will you be able to have the orchestra on stage?

Traditionally in ballet, the orchestra is in the pit, but Cobb has better acoustics because of the way it was built with the sound in mind, as opposed to the more traditional Fox acoustics.

This year must be a triple challenge for you - just back from Washington, ready to start the final Fox run while looking ahead to the Cobb engagement. It's like birthing a new baby, right?

(Laughs) Well yeah. This year, it's been like giving birth to another baby, but you already know how it looks. But in intensity, yes. It's an exciting challenge.

Another challenge is keeping it fresh - for yourself, the troupe and the audiences who may've already seen the show before.

That is true. A lot of that challenge is put on the choreographer. During the creation, I could see how complicated the structure of the choreography really is - just what is happening on stage in general. Even last year, I was saying that there's so much going on, people might not even be able to see everything at each show. Myself, watching from the audience, I see new things at every performance. Last year, I was saying you must come at least five times to see everything that's going on. But now I don't think even that number would suffice.

So it's almost like a circus in that you can see portions of the action depending on the seat.

Exactly. It depends on where you sit, you have different angles of sight. There are layers of choreography. The human eye just cannot concentrate on everything at once. You pick and choose what to see. Like with a symphonic show, you'll hear one instrument one time and the next listen, you hear another in the lead. You can see something new in every performance. With this production of Nutcracker, I think is pretty much timeless. I heard from an audience member in Washington who had seen the production in Atlanta, they said it was like seeing a completely new ballet. They said they saw so many different things from the previous time they saw it.

That's the hallmark of great art, to enjoy new angles from a familiar piece.

It's like when you go back to a book you've loved. You have different thoughts born in your mind as you re-read it. You go back for the familiar, but you find new things. It's the same with Nutcracker. It's as evolving as its familiar.

People often don't pause to think of how much work it takes to present a big show such as this. It's not like a rock show load-in in the afternoon and then it's on at 8. It's a time-consuming process to bring the Nutcracker to life.

It's a huge undertaking. It's definitely a challenge, especially at the Fox, to construct all the pieces. There's only one spot on stage that allows you to go full height there. That does restrict on time, how quickly we can construct the entire production. Right now the trucks are travelling from Kennedy Center to Atlanta. Then we need to build the production and start rehearsals with the local orchestra, so we are really pressed for time to open the show. Sometimes it's too close but we have I think it's thirteen trucks coming with the sets so it's a stressful time. Moving from place to place is a different challenge that we face.

But on the night of the show, all the hard work and stress makes it all worthwhile.

Oh yes, of course.

No matter if it's a warm day in December or a rare snowfall in the south, when the lights go down, there's a magical anticipation of the performance. It's like Christmas Eve every night, right?

That's exactly right; it's the anticipation. It's like when there's birthday cake about to enter, you know? The lights go down and you are waiting in anticipation that something great is about to happen.

Atlanta Ballet's The Nutcracker runs from now through December 24 at the Fox. To purchase tickets, visit atlantaballet.com/nutcracker or call 1.855.285.8499. For groups of ten or more, call Atlanta Ballet Group Sales at 404.873.5811, ext. 1207.

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