There’s holiday excitement in the air inside the auditorium of Lakewood, NJ’s historic Strand Theater this Saturday, December 22, 2018 as an audience of all ages readies itself for a live performance of The Nutcracker by The Atlantic City Ballet and the Garden State Philharmonic orchestra!
Before the performance begins, we take a moment to chat with the founder, artistic director, and choreographer of the Atlantic City Ballet, Phyllis Papa.
“The first time The Nutcracker was performed in Russia,” reveals Papa, “it was a flop! People hated it. It was just way ahead of it’s time. It wasn’t until George Balanchine brought it to New York in the ’50s that it became really popular in the United Sates. Now, it’s a holiday tradition for many families.”
“The Atlantic City Ballet has been performing The Nutcracker for 36 years, starting in 1982 in Atlantic City,” explains Papa. “The Claridge Hotel and Casino made a $5000 donation which enabled us to to finance the costumes and props we’d need for the production. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Ballet had a fire that year, but their misfortune enabled us to acquire some of their costumes and props, some of which we still use today — in fact, the cannon we’ll use today is from the Baltimore Ballet!”
Continuing, “We’ve performed with the Garden State Philharmonic for six or seven years now. It’s wonderful to perform with a live orchestra! I think all performances should be with a live orchestra, but the challenge of working with live musicians is the tempo of the music. We only get one rehearsal with all of our dancers — professionals and students alike — so that’s why, as a choreographer, it’s extremely important to be able to communicate with the Garden State Philharmonic’s conductor, Diane Wittry, who does an amazing job of keeping everyone on track!”
Inside the beautiful Strand Theater auditorium, the lights dim as the orchestra tunes. The packed audience applauds when conductor Diane Wittry takes her place at the podium and the musicians begin to play the overture from The Nutcracker.
The curtain rises to reveal the parlor of the Stahlbaum household where the family is celebrating their annual Christmas Eve tree lighting party.
Relatives and friends dance together on this happy occasion!
The mysterious Herr Drosselmayer arrives with wonderful mechanical dolls.
He also presents a gift of a Nutcracker to young Clara.
Clara dances with joy with her Nutcracker!
When the party ends, the family goes to bed. During her sleep, Clara begins to dream.
In her dream, she gleefully dances with her Nutcracker despite the movement of little mice in the parlor.
She sees the family Christmas tree grow ever larger as toy soldiers come to life.
The Nutcracker also comes to life and battles the Rat King before vanquishing him forever!
The Nutcracker is transformed into a young prince and the parlor into a Land of Snow. The Snow Queen appears and welcomes Clara to this wonderous land.
Among the snowflakes, The Snow King and his Princes take flight!
The dancing is beautiful — each pose creating a picture.
Leaping and prancing fills the stage as Clara dances with the Snow King and Queen and the audience applauds for the conclusion of Act I.
Act II begins with Angels in white, complete with translucent wings.
The Angels glide across the stage to the heavenly sound of a harp.
The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier welcome Clara to the Land of Sweets.
Here, the Sugar Plum Fairy presents dances from different lands for Clara to enjoy, beginning with “Chocolate” from Spain.
“Coffee” from Arabia features acrobatic spins and lifts.
On “Waltz of the Flowers,” The Dew Drop Fairy dances as the Flowers move to the harp’s welcoming call.
The dancing is flowing, fluid, and beautiful.
The Dew Drop Fairy returns for a final grand pas de deux dance.
Elegant and lovely, she leaps with grace!
The artistry of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier elicit applause from the enthusiastic crowd!
The performance ends with a standing ovation and a curtain call which includes enthusiastic cheers and applause for Phyllis Papa and Diane Wittry.
As audience members make their way out of the theater, we take a moment to chat with Garden State Philharmonic conductor, Diane Wittry.
Comments Wittry, “Phyllis Papa is an amazing artistic director and choreographer! She and the Atlantic City Ballet do this program in a variety of different venues — each with a single run-through — and everything goes so smoothly! From the professional dancers to the youngest children playing the mice, she always makes things come together so well.”
Continuing, “It’s the energy of the music — the give and take and the back and forth — that makes a performance like this so special. When the orchestra performs by itself in a concert, we can speed things up or slow things down if we want. When working with the ballet, however, I’m always watching the feet! I have to dance along with them, so to speak, in that once the orchestra locks into a tempo, we have to keep it going.”
Concludes Wittry, “I love the challenge of playing for the ballet — it’s always a wonderful experience!”
We also get a chance to chat with several audience members who share their opinions about tonight’s performance of The Nutcracker.
First, we talk to Alina and Sonya, two young sisters from Toms River, who both used to take ballet but now study ballroom dancing.
“The Nutcracker was really good!” says Alina. “I loved the costumes — especially Clara’s,” before noting, “And the mice were really cute.”
Alina’s sister, Sonya, concurs commenting, “It was really nice — all of the scenes with The Nutcracker were my favorites.”
Next, we chat with Chloe from Atlantic City, age 10, who made her ballet debut in Act I as a battle soldier.
Reveals Chloe, “I’ve been dancing for five years and I’ve been in recitals before, but this was my first show,” before exclaiming, “I really enjoyed the entire experience.”
Lastly, we chat with Luca, 8, from Ridgewood NY, who concludes by declaring, “I didn’t want it to be over!”
To learn more about the Atlantic City Ballet — including information on upcoming productions including Romeo and Juliet in March, Sleeping Beauty in April, and a brand new production of Cinderella in May — please go to acballet.org. For info on upcoming shows at The Strand Theater — including Stars of the Sixties with Jay and the Americans, The Buckinghams’ Dennis Tufano, The Original Vandellas, and the Motortown All-Stars on February 8 — please go to strand.org.
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