“Whether you are a child or an adult, when you go to “The Nutcracker” and the lights are out and the snow is falling – it creates a magical world. It can transport you to another place for this little period of time,” said Erika Overturff, Artistic Director for Ballet Nebraska.
It has been four years since a local dance company has presented “The Nutcracker” at the Orpheum Theatre.
Overturff said Ballet Nebraska had been partnering with Omaha Performing Arts on education projects for the last few years and had been talking to them about wanting to bring “The Nutcracker” to the Orpheum this season.
Omaha Performing Arts was excited about the idea and is working with Ballet Nebraska to bring in thousands of students to see the production at the Orpheum. The students will watch the ballet prior to the paid performances.
Overturff is thrilled to have the opportunity to choreograph the ballet using her own vision. With such great music and so many different parts to the ballet, she said the production is entertaining and fast-paced and was a joy to choreograph.
“Art nouveau is the inspiration for our party scene and then there are elements of that drawn into other scenes as well,” Overturff said.
She said “The Nutcracker” is really a core piece of most ballet companies’ seasons. It is one of the most well-known ballets and has many different components.
“You’ve got the party scene, which has social dance and is very period. The battle scene has a lot of action and the snow scene is beautiful and lyrical. Then in Act II you’ve got a number of short pieces that have distinctive styles because they are representing all the different countries and nations. There’s really a lot of good stuff there for a choreographer to work with,” enthused Overturff.
The whole story of “The Nutcracker” follows a young girl’s dream. Clara is at the age where Christmas is exciting and the production represents a magical, fantasy world. Overturff said the ballet is inspiring in that way.
Twins Katie and Kalin Rice, age 11, were cast to play the role of Clara. According to Overturff the two are good dancers and actresses and were just perfect for the part.
Auditions were open to the entire community and students from 40 different dance schools tried out for roles in the ballet. Overturff explained part of the mission of Ballet Nebraska is to be a resource for the whole dance community.
“As a professional dance company, “The Nutcracker” provides the opportunity for a lot of these young dancers to come and have the experience of being onstage in a professional show,” said Overturff.
Young dancers from Omaha, Lincoln and Council Bluffs were cast in the production. And all of the kids in the youth cast are extremely excited to be in the ballet.
And she feels they bring a special element to the show, “For the children in the audience, it’s neat for them to be able to see other young people on the stage, adding to the show.”
There are featured roles for all of the professional company dancers. The ballet shows off everybody in different ways. Matthew Carter is the “Cavalier,” Natasha Grimm-Gregory is the “Sugar Plum Fairy,” and Sasha York and Overturff will be dancing as the “Snow King” and “Snow Queen.” Carter, York and Grimm-Gregory have all been members of Ballet Nebraska since the company was founded.
Dancers have been in rehearsal for “The Nutcracker” for six weeks.
In addition to performing at the Orpheum Theatre, Ballet Nebraska will also offer “The Nutcracker” onstage at Iowa Western Community College. Overturff considers the company lucky to have the chance to perform in two of the region’s premier theatres.
“These are venues where audiences expect to see top quality performances. They are both a great fit for us and we are excited to be in both theatres this year. We are the region’s professional ballet company and have a strong group of talented dancers. These venues showcase us well,” Overturff said.
A lot of pre-planning is done in terms of staging the ballet so when the company goes into the respective theatres, they are organized. They know exactly where they want everything to be ahead of time. Overturff said the company has a really good plan ahead of time that includes the number of people needed.
She said a dancer’s performance should always look effortless, beautiful and graceful despite the hard work that goes into preparing for each role.
New this year, Overturff and the Nebraska Humane Society have developed the “Muttcracker” program which promotes the adoption of shelter pets. "My dog, Maggie, was a shelter pet, so I love the idea of helping other pets find homes," she said.
The party scene of each performance will feature a brief cameo appearance by one of four shelter dogs, specially selected by the society's animal behavior specialists for their calm stage presence.
The show is constantly moving from one place to the next during Clara’s dream. Something different is always happening. Dancing and costumes are changing so the ballet moves quickly. Overturff said there are tons of people in it so there’s a lot to see and it does hold the audience’s attention really well.
For kids, “The Nutcracker” is often the first ballet they are ever brought to and it can become a really long lasting memory of something special that relates to the holidays.
After each show, the dancers will come out and sign autographs. Something Overturff said is fun for both the patrons and the dancers.
Since founding Ballet Nebraska four years ago, Overturff feels it has been amazing to watch the company grow and see what they’ve accomplished. This season the company is going to Florida to perform in the spring and has a lot of opportunities coming their way. Something Overturff attributes to the group’s hard work and dedication.
She said she enjoys Ballet Nebraska’s working environment, explaining that the company has a fantastic group of dancers, staff, production people and volunteers. Overturff said it takes a lot of work but it’s really worth it and great to see how everyone pulls together to make productions like “The Nutcracker” a success.
"We're always working to keep the ballet lively and fresh -- in choreography, in casting, in the way we relate to each other onstage, and in the features we add to the production.We love what we do so it makes it all worth it – we love performing for the audience and sharing what we do,” she said.
Orpheum performances of “The Nutcracker” will be at 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, December 7, and 2 pm Sunday, December 8. Tickets are available from Ticket Omaha at 402.345.0606; online from ticketomaha.com; or at the Ticket Omaha box office at 13th and Douglas.