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For many, the holiday season just isn’t complete without a performance of Peter Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet. There is still time. The North Carolina State Ballet, under the direction of Fayetteville’s own Charlotte Blume, will perform this holiday classic at the Crown Dec. 12 and 13.

The cast consists of 60 dancers as well as guest artists. This marks the 39th consecutive year that the North Carolina State Ballet has performed The Nutcracker in Fayetteville. The performers start preparing for this production in late summer. The standards set by the Charlotte Blume School of Dance are rigorous and that reflects in the performance. While things stay busy at the studio year-round, this is an especially busy time of year and one that the dancers look forward to with great anticipation. “There is always an exciting cast for The Nutcracker. We have four guest artists this year as well as a sterling local cast that have been doing this for several years,” said Blume. “That makes it an especially exciting program.”

The classic story remains unchanged, however, two new backdrops will grace the stage, bringing an updated look to this favorite. Local artist Cindy Slappey and her former student Caroline Geiger designed the backdrop for Act II. Featuring the Land of Sweets and the Castle of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the backdrop brings a fresh perspective to the performance. Jennifer O’Kelly of O’Kelly Designs created the Act I backdrop. A graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts, O’Kelly’s backdrops have been featured in the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, Public Broadcasting Service’s “Great Performances” and the Toronto International Ballet. 

The Nutcracker is set in the 1800s. A young girl named Clara receives an enchanted Nutcracker from Herr Drosslemeyer, her godfather. As she drifts off to sleep snuggling the nutcracker, Clara’s adventures are just beginning. She faces the Mouse King and his army. The brave nutcracker conquers the Mouse King in a duel. 

Now, transformed into a prince, the nutcracker and Clara meet the Snow King and Queen. Amid the falling snow and dancing snowflakes, Clara and the nutcracker prince are off to their next adventure.

Act II takes them to the Crystal Palace, which is filled with dancing insects and butterflies. Here, the Sugar Plum Fairy listens to their adventures and hosts a festival for her guests. The Sugar Plum Fairy joins in a waltz with her court of flowers. Clara and the prince are delighted and impressed. As the event winds down, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Uncle Drosselmeyer grant Clara a Christmas wish and transform her into a beautiful woman so she can dance in the arms of the prince. Then Clara awakes. It is Christmas morning and the nutcracker is nestled safe in her arms.

Guest artists perform the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. On Dec. 6, Alicia Fabry took the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. Fabry grew up in France and studied at the English National Ballet School in London. This is Fabry’s sixth season dancing with the North Carolina State Ballet. Marcelo Martinez was her Cavalier. Martinez hails from Paraguay and is returning for his second season with the North Carolina State Ballet. Previously, he trained at companhia Jovem do Teatro Mumicipal do Rio de Janerio and the Washington Ballet.

Fabry returns as the Sugar Plum Fairy for the Dec. 12 and 13 performances and Adam Shiffer plays Cavalier. Shiffer is from Budapest, Hungary and graduated from the Hungarian Dance Academy. He has toured and performed in Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy and France. This is his second appearance with the North Carolina State Ballet.

Daniel Moore performs Drosselmeyer. “Little Clara” is alternated by Emily Rogers and Katherine Sullivan. “Clara Grown Up” is danced by Tiffany Alexander with Daniel Rivera as the “Nutcracker Prince”. The “Pas de Duex” highlights Act I and takes “Clara” and the “Prince” to the “Land of Snow” and then to the “Land of Sweets.”

The role of the “Snow Queen” is alternated by Deprecia Simpson and Sarah Middleton. The “Jewel” in “Waltz of the Flowers” is danced by April Glasper or Deprecia Simpson. The Arabian Dancer in “Coffee” is danced by Andrea Flores. 

When Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky debuted this work at the Mayinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, it was not well received. Even though he was commissioned by Marius Petipa, a well-known and much-loved choreographer, to compose a score adapted to E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” the critics and the audience were not impressed. Despite their work together on the classic ballet Sleeping Beauty, Czar Alexander III seemed to be the only fan of The Nutcracker.

Other artists saw the potential though, and in 1944, The Nutcracker opened at the San Francisco Ballet. Later, choreographer George Balanchine tweaked a few of the characters for the 1954 production when it premiered at the New York City Ballet. It was a smashing hit and claimed its place in America’s heart as a holiday tradition.

The Nutcracker is on stage at the Crown Theatre Dec. 12-13. Performances begin at 3 p.m. All performances are directed by Charlotte Blume. General admission is $20; military rates are $18 and children’s tickets cost $7. Tickets are available at the Crown Complex Box Office, Capefeartix.com and by calling 888.257.6208. Find out more at http://crowncomplexnc.com.

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