Ballet brings tradition, magic

This November, the Colorado Ballet pirouetted its way into their 53rd annual production of “The Nutcracker.”

The show opened at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver on Nov. 30 and will run until Dec. 28. “The Nutcracker” first premiered in 1892 in Russia and it was the first show ever performed by the Colorado Ballet.

Although many variations of “The Nutcracker” have been performed over the years, the story of a girl’s adventure to mystical lands after receiving an enchanted nutcracker doll still sells out shows.

“The fans of ballet inspire me quite a bit,” said Colorado Ballet corps dancer, Christopher Ellis. “In a country full of commercials, sports and cool social networks, they’ve decided to come out for a few hours and watch art.”

Each dancer typically learns multiple parts, and casting is different every performance. At the beginning of the performance a large, red curtain lifted up to reveal a massive backdrop which resembled the artwork of the old storybook’s cover page. The first act began with a Christmas party in which the protagonist, Clara, receives the gift of a nutcracker doll from her godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer.

After the party, her godfather enchants the house and the nutcracker doll. The Christmas tree, toys, nutcracker and rats become gigantic.

A battle ensues between the now life-size Nutcracker Prince and the Rat King, and Clara helps save the Nutcracker Prince’s life. The Nutcracker becomes human after defeating the Rat King and rewards Clara’s bravery with a trip to the land of sweets, which dozens of ballerinas wonderfully illustrate by performing various dances.

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The opening night’s production had many elements common to the classic ballet but also added extra detail, care and fun. A pyrotechnic was used in the transformation of the Nutcracker Prince, the backgrounds were intricate and colorful, and both fog and delicate snowfall were used in the romantic and visually intriguing “Land of Snow” scene.

Humor was not absent in the show, with silly disco dances performed by the Rat King during his demise and the Macarena being performed by the enormous Mother Ginger, which brought roars of laughter from the audience.

The scene featuring dancers from many lands added a culturally diverse vibe. For instance, the Arabian dance had a slower, sensual tone, which contrasted with the crowd-pleasing high-energy performance of the Russian dance, with its male dancers doing repetitive, high-jump splits.

The second scene ended in the colorful Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy, with the ballet’s classic dances of the flowers, the Dew Drop, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier.

Dancer Caitlyn Valentine-Ellis starred as Clara in the 2 p.m. show and as the Dew Drop in the 7:30 p.m. show opening day. She began dancing ballet when she was 5 years old and has been in more than 200 “Nutcracker” productions.

“It’s hard after performing the same roles for years to not get relaxed and stale in the rehearsals. What really helps with that, when we get to performance time, is all the children involved in the show, as well as the children in the audience that are so excited to see us,” Valentine-Ellis said. “They really think ‘The Nutcracker’ is so magical and seeing the looks on their faces when they have seen the show is what makes performing in ‘The Nutcracker’ so special.”

Valentine-Ellis’s husband, Ellis, has starred as both the Cavalier and Nutcracker Prince in past productions.

“Not everyone lives their dream,” Ellis said. “Whether it’s dancing or anything else, so just being a dancer by profession and getting to work hard at something you love to do is a pretty big reward. Every dancer is lucky to be doing what they do.”
The “Sugarplum Presentation” occurred before the show began, in which 1st through 3rd grade female Sugarplums donned red dresses and presented bows to the audience. It is a fundraising event for the Colorado Ballet and a way to get young girls interested in ballet.

“Our granddaughter is one of the sugarplums,” said Carol Evans of Greeley. “It was just thrilling to see them introduced on the first night.”

While it was Evans’ sixth time enjoying “The Nutcracker” performance, for her granddaughter and many other young girls it was their first “Nutcracker” show.

“My favorite part was with the snow people,” said 8-year-old Alyssa Austin. It was both her and her ten-year-old sister, Hailey Galecka’s, first time watching “The Nutcracker” ballet.

“There were really cool costumes and backgrounds. The snow dresses were the best,” Galecka said.

The broad range of ages of those who sat in the audience during “The Nutcracker” is a testament that the show is appreciated through the generations.

“To know that I was part of making a magical show for them is amazing,” Valentine-Ellis  said.

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Sara Beets

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