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A Testament to the Times: MB’s Virtual Nutcracker Vignettes

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You may not be able to see Marin Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Marin Civic Center this year, but we have found a way to bring vignettes of our beloved show to you from the comfort of your own homes! Our new virtual Nutcracker Vignettes events take place on Zoom on December 12th at 1:00pm and 2:30pm, and December 13th at 1:00pm and 2:30pm. So put on your ugly Christmas sweaters, pour some eggnog for the family, and tune in for a dose of holiday cheer!

The Nutcracker, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, debuted in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1892. Today, The Nutcracker’s infamous score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky serenades the world throughout the holiday season, encouraging us to shop, hang lights, and decorate trees. For ballet dancers, The Nutcracker inspires a different impulse. When we hear Tchaikovsky’s music, it’s show time! The music reminds us of the excitement of casting, learning new roles, practicing characterization, and becoming the magic of the Land of Sweets; a land where snow, flowers, and people across the lands can appreciate one another in the spirit of dance.

Julia Adam, former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer and choreographer of Marin Ballet’s Nutcracker, feels nostalgic this time of year. “I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Nutcracker, but I feel like I’m back to where I was when I was a child. It began with this feeling of oh my goodness I love this! The Sugar Plum Fairy, this beautiful creature, this Arabian woman, the Snow Queen! The first role I did at the National Ballet of Canada was theGingerbread Cookie in the battle scene. It was funny and terrifying because you couldn’t really see out of the costume. Then I joined San Francisco Ballet and we did thirty shows in the corps, and you’re in every show. I remember the fatigue and the repetition and then you get one day off and do your Christmas shopping and the Nutcracker music is playing in all the shops. You can’t escape it!” Ms. Adam recalls the process of becoming the Sugar Plum Fairy, one of if not the principal role in The Nutcracker: “The Sugar Plum Fairy and I don’t really resonate as people, as characters. I was so excited that I had arrived and I was doing it, and at the same time it didn’t fit me. The Snow Queen I got, she was fierce and I could throw my energy.”

Once Ms. Adam had children she began watching The Nutcracker performances through their eyes. “When Cynthia commissioned me to choreograph Marin Ballet’s Nutcracker, I had this well of excitement to explore the music and how intimate I am with it. I longed for movements to happen on these big notes that didn’t happen in productions that I danced in. Choreographing Marin Ballet’s Nutcracker became a gift to make something for the students within the parameters that would work for them. I get to watch the kids grow up through the production. Saying goodbye to the seniors each year is just awful. It makes my heart break. So I am relieved that we found a way to do the show. It’s a great time of year for me.”

After a 2020 none of us could have imagined, our virtual Nutcracker Vignettes events stand testament to the resilience of our organization and the importance of dance to our community. There is an unprecedented intimacy that this show brings. Ms. Adam says “This idea that we are going into people’s homes, not just a theater, that we are collectively moving into all these different spaces, is unusual. We are going into these kids’ bedrooms and the outdoor platform, which have a different feeling than what we are used to doing. It’s a journey. I’m curious to see how it translates.”

Our youth have always been integral to the creative process. They are the ambassadors of holiday cheer, a cheer so contagious it transforms us. Their love of dance continues to be influential in our virtual production. Ms. Adam recalls, “The other day in our Flour rehearsal I had the students turn their heads sideways because one girl was listening to me with her head tilted and I thought it was so funny, so it became a part of the show. Some of it is controlled and of course, like anything, some of it is improvised and spontaneous.”

There are also unique challenges to producing a show on zoom, namely the relationship between the body and the sound. Ms. Adam notes that with the audio lag on zoom “I have had to let go and let it be what it is, because I wanted to offer this live performance. I didn’t want to film them. In some ways it’s hilarious, sitting there watching ten boxes move at their own beat. Sometimes I just sit there and laugh and then I have to let go and just let it be what it is.”

After a year like 2020, we can all use a reminder to let go and take refuge in the little victories. We hope to see you camped out in your living room forts, taking refuge in our victorious Land of Sweets, pulling your loved ones in close, as long as they are in your bubble…Happy Holidays!