It's hard to think of The Nutcracker around these parts without thinking of Tulsa Ballet Theatre's art-deco-infused, 1920s interpretation of the classic work, but it wasn't always that way.
Principal soloist Alfonso Martin recently spoke about how the different versions are perceived in and around TBT.
"The first one, we call it 'The Old Nutcracker,'" he said. "But [TBT artistic director] Marcello [Angelini]'s Nutcracker is a 1920s setup, where the ladies are wearing dresses, and the men are wearing tuxedos. So it's set in a different era, and that's one thing that's so different."
There was a time -- when this version debuted -- when not everyone was all that thrilled about it. Sure, everyone loves it now, but there were a lot of unhappy people the first time they saw The Nutcracker set in 20th-century France.
"We heard many different opinions about the new Nutcracker, and we dancers have our own opinions, but then we had been doing the same Nutcracker for 35 years when we decided to do it," Martin said. "We just needed a new Nutcracker."
This prompted the dancer to speak about how people just don't like change, for the most part, but also briefly about the nature of art.
"There were people who were so attached to the old one," he said. "They grew up with the old Nutcracker. Both Nutcrackers are so different, and people said, 'This is not the Nutcracker.' But nothing is written down. It's art. You can take a different approach."
And that's what Angelini and Martin did. To be sure, when it debuted in 2003, there were howls of disapproval.
"I think some people came and were surprised, but it grew on them," Martin said. "Some people hated it. Some people loved it. But it's just a part of our work. We do the best we can, and we know that we're not going to be able to please everybody. Dance is like colors: I like black, you like white, but there are all sorts of great colors. It's people's experiences and their approach. It's part of our work. We enjoy it as much as we can, I think."
Although he wouldn't commit to liking one version of the ballet more than the other, Martin spoke in a way that makes you think you know which one he likes better.
"We always tell the new dancers, you know, 'Oh, just wait until The Nutcracker,'" he said. "They often think, 'Oh, it's The Nutcracker. It will be easy."
But it's not easy, and not just because it's a different version of the show so many dancers new to TBT have performed it elsewhere.
"Marcello did something very hard with this Nutcracker, because he wanted to push the dancers," Martin said. "It's a hard piece. People ask how I do it, or do I have any tricks. I quit smoking a long time ago, and I don't drink very much at all. We all just do what we need to do to make it work."
Martin will be appearing in his final Nutcracker this month, as he has announced his retirement coinciding with the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Courtesy of TulsaBallet
"It's funny, because when you sign a contract for a company, you say, 'I'm going to have to learn Nutcracker again,' but then in rehearsal, you start liking it again," he said, more than a little nostalgically. "I started this year to realize this was my last one, and I thought, 'This is the last one. I'm going to miss this.' I haven't cried yet, but I still might shed a tear."
Catch Martin's final Nutcracker, and if you've never seen this version of it, you need to see it irrespective of Martin's impending departure from TBT, one of the best ballet companies in the world.
The Nutcracker opened Dec. 8 and runs Saturdays and Sundays through Sunday, Dec. 23 in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall. All Sunday shows are 2pm matinees, and Saturdays offer 2pm matinees and 7pm evening shows. Tickets are available by phone at 918-749-6006, but if you go through tulsaballet.org or myticketoffice.com, you can take advantage of the PAC's new select-your-own-seat option.
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues
Theatre Pops brings back its adult look at Santa's hooved helpers, as each reindeer gets the chance to dish about Santa, the North Pole, and each other.
The central conceit of the show is that each monologue is testimony, as each reindeer weighs in on events regarding Santa's unwanted advances against Vixen, and while the setup of the show implies that it's an off-color comedic romp, it does go a bit beyond being a dark comedy, as there are some serious issues raised by playwright Jeff Goode's script. Still, TP is happy with the show, as this is its second incarnation in as many years.
Things this show is not: about Christmas; a holiday romp that will leave audience members giddy; a feel-good play about Santa for the kids to see.
The Eight runs Thursdays through Sundays, Dec. 13 to 23, at 8pm in the PAC's Liddy Doenges Theater. Shows start at 8pm except for Sundays, which have 2pm matinees. Tickets are available at myticketoffice.com or at the PAC's Second Street box office.
Sweet Honey In The Rock, presented by Choregus Productions
This a capella sextet comes through Tulsa on the cusp of celebrating its 40th birthday.
The music these women produce is a unique sound born of the African American experience, combining elements of the blues, spirituals, gospel hymns, rap, jazz, and even reggae and African chants. The result yields music that is at times toe-tapping, at times moving, and always couched in tight, tight harmonies that will make non-musicians go, "Wow, that's really nice," and make musicians say, "How the hell are they doing that?"
Sweet Honey In The Rock finds occasional accompaniment from its members, who wield hand percussion instruments from time to time, but also use their bodies and voices for some rhythmic drive.
Choregus Productions brings these lovely ladies to Cascia Hall's Helmerich Theater at 2520 S. Yorktown Ave., and they take the stage at 8pm this Saturday, Dec. 15. Tickets are available through Choregus by phone at 918-688-6112, and the box office is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm.
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