A Sugar Plum Fairy, a Mouse King and a Nutcracker Prince will kick off the holiday season at the Musical Arts Center tonight.
IU Ballet Theater will present its annual showing of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “the Nutcracker” for the 55th year at 7 p.m. Additional performances will take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
“‘The Nutcracker’ is famous for either making people go back to the ballet because they love it so much or for inspiring young dancers,” said Michael Vernon, choreographer and director of the show and chair of the ballet department.
This is Vernon’s seventh “Nutcracker” production at IU. He said he generally maintains consistency and only makes small changes from year to year.
“I fine-tune,” he said. “They’re not huge changes. The structure stays the same.”
The story of “The Nutcracker” is based on an Alexandre Dumas adaptation of German author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov choreographed the original production, which premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892.
Senior Melissa Meng is one of four dancers to play the Sugar Plum Fairy, one of the ballet’s most prominent roles.
“I like that she is in charge of bringing all of the magic to Clara,” Meng said. “She’s part of the fairytale.”
Meng has performed in “The Nutcracker” every year since childhood and said the show has had a large effect on her.
This is the first time she has played the Sugar Plum Fairy at IU. Meng had to figure out how to put her own spin on the popular role.
“There are a lot of different ways she could be and there’s room for artistic interpretation, so you have to find how you best fit the role,” she said.
Sophomore Alexandra Hartnett will also portray the Sugar Plum Fairy, a part she found physically demanding.
“It’s very, very long and you really have to pace yourself,” Hartnett said. “The most difficult part for me was concentrating on my breathing and keeping myself calm through the piece.”
Vernon said an understandable story and a relatable little girl heroine in the role of Clara draw audiences to “the Nutcracker” each holiday season.
“I think my role as a director is to remember that people don’t see ballet, so you have to tell the story in a way that is understandable and also can be appreciated by ballet aficionados as well as those who are coming for the first time,” he said.
Meng said the show is a fun and easy ballet for audiences to watch.
Though the show “puts people in the right frame of mind for Christmas,” it’s also about the dancing and iconic music, Vernon said.
He thinks familiarity with the music, which frequently appears in holiday television commercials, helps audiences connect to the story.
“If people aren’t familiar with ballet, and they go to a ballet where they feel parts of it are familiar, they have more of a connection with it,” he said.
Hartnett hopes the performances leave a lasting effect on the audiences.
“If it’s their first time seeing ‘the Nutcracker,’ I hope they enjoy their experience and want to learn more about ballet and the different styles that are present in this day and age,” she said.
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