Appalachian Ballet Company: Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
• Saturday, December 2, at 7:30 PM and Sunday, December 3, at 3:00 PM – Knoxville Civic Auditorium
• Friday, December 8, 7:30 PM and Saturday December 9 at 3 PM – Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville
Irony has an amusing place in music and dance performance history. That history is full of examples of works that were unimpressive to audiences when they premiered, but later became giants of the repertoire. Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker certainly finds itself in this historic group. For a number of reasons that now are only interesting as performance esoterica, The Nutcracker’s premiere in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg was greeted with audience disinterest and some critical disapproval. However, good music and dance generally win in the long run; since the 1950s, The Nutcracker has been one of the most attended stage productions of any genre or type, in all corners of the United States.
Today a holiday necessity for many ballet companies, both artistically and financially, The Nutcracker is now in its 46th season for the Knoxville area’s own Appalachian Ballet Company. The Maryville-based company’s founding artistic director, Cheryl Van Metre, was its original choreographer, drawing on some of Marius Petipa’s choreography from his grande pas de deux.
Currently, under the direction of Amy Morton Vaughn, now in her 21st season, ABC has made The Nutcracker one of Knoxville’s long-running holiday traditions. Although the work remains the familiar classic, Vaughn has gradually replaced choreography with her own, taking advantage of the availability of new dancers and the evolution of the company.
In the lead role of the Nutcracker Prince will be guest dancer David Ward. Ward trained at English National Ballet School and has most recently danced with Ballet Met in Ohio. Partnering with Ward is ballerina Laura Morton as the Sugarplum Fairy. Morton has previously danced with the Atlanta Ballet.
Vaughn is including several new pieces of choreography in this year’s production, dances that feature guests artists Addison Ector from Complexions, a New York based dance company, as the Snow King, and Jeff Wolfe as Herr Drosselmeyer. Owen Scarlett, a Chicago-based dancer, will take the role of the Arabian Prince.
Appearing as Clara will be Madelyn Barber; the Snow Queen will be danced by Tiffany Mangulabnan.
One of the most satisfying and gratifying aspects of Appalachian Ballet’s The Nutcracker is Vaughn’s insistence on using a live pit orchestra for the performances, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Sande MacMorran.
“A live orchestra is wonderful for our community and a fabulous opportunity for our dancers,” Vaughn says. “We are a regional dance company and in the Southeast – we are one of a handful that hire live music. We are the only Nutcracker in this area with live music.”
Backing up the lead dancers is a cast of almost 100, including the singers for the Snow Scene that ends Act I. The Central High School Choir will perform the first weekend performances at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium; Concord Christian Academy Choir has the honor of the second weekend at the Clayton Center.