Many families celebrate the holidays with traditions as well as making new ones. In honor these ever changing traditions, the Greater Lansing Ballet Company (GLBC) presents a fresh take on a classic ballet. The American Nutcracker Ballet takes the stage at Pattengill Middle School this weekend, December 18-20, 2015.
I spoke with Jim McEwan, artistic director of GLBC, about differences between the original and this updated version, and what this performance will bring to the greater Lansing community.
GARCHOW: How is this show different from the traditional Nutcracker?
MCEWAN: We've taken the Victorian Nutcracker, which is the traditional story, into a new time period - the 1940s in America, also considered war time. We've shifted the initial story to Europe. There were a lot of things that were different at that time period. In our show, we see the story of the Nutcracker more through the children's eyes, specifically through Clara. We see it from the younger perspective.
One of the big differences is we've updated the Nutcracker family. Normally there's a father, mother, Clara, and Fritz. In this story, Clara's father is off at war and so she's a little bit sadder because she misses him. We kind of explore that throughout the first act.
GARCHOW: Why were the 1940s chosen as the setting for this updated version?
MCEWAN: The time period for me has a lot of meaning. My grandfather was a paratrooper and I've always been fascinated by that era. Being a boy, I played with the World War II model planes when I was younger. There are still people from that decade around, but we are starting to lose that generation. We have some of the dolls in the party scene that are things people will remember from that era.
It's a period in time that I think people can connect to, but it's still just a little bit nostalgic. Meaning it still gives us that little bit of fantasy, a little bit of imagination. The story line behind it still has a lot to do with what's going on today in families, because we are still involved in conflicts around the world where families are still separated on holidays like Christmas. I wanted to illustrate that as a reflection on what many people are going through.
GARCHOW: Who's your favorite character?
MCEWAN: One of my favorite characters in this ballet is Fritz. In previous versions, Fritz is not always mean. I wanted to bring some of my family connections into this, so I based Fritz around what my brother was like when he was being mean while growing up. But I like all of the characters.
GARCHOW: The Nutcracker is known as a holiday tradition, what does this tradition mean to you and the Greater Lansing Area?
MCEWAN: The traditional Nutcracker would bring in elements that are traditional as a family. Many of the characters are based on what I look back on and the traditions that were apart of my family. The kids would play together and grandma would bring cookies, so that's something that came through here. Traditions are what tie people together, bring families together. It's ironic that Nutcracker is a traditional ballet and I've decided to change it.
This production is also different for the Lansing area because we've invited Happendance to be guest dancers, so we are including another major dance group from the area. It's becoming more and more of a greater community production. I'm very proud of that particular element in this ballet.
GARCHOW: Why is this a great show for families?
MCEWAN: I think there will be some families, but the adults that come will see things that they'll have nostalgia about. When I first proposed the idea, some of the parents were like "Oh, yeah I had that toy!" or "I had a Raggedy Ann Andy." For the younger kids, there are a lot of pretty costumes. For all ages, the dancing itself is really nice. We have a lot of very strong dancers, so it's kind of inspiring when a kid goes into that theater and they come away from it wanting to dance like the Sugar Plum Fairy or Snow Queen. We did a preview at the MICA Gallery in Lansing. There was a small boy and he could not take his eyes off the dancers.
See the 'American Nutcracker Ballet' this weekend in the Pattengill Auditorium of Pattengill Middle School, at 626 Marshall Street in Lansing. Visit greaterlansingballet.com for details and to purchase tickets to the show.