Going to see The Nutcracker is, for many people, a tradition that heralds the holiday season. In East Lyme, Eastern Connecticut Ballet keeps that tradition very much alive and on its toes—and this year's performance of the Nutcracker at the Garde Arts Center on December 15 and 16 promises to be better than ever.
Last night, the company had its final dress rehearsal at the historic Garde Arts Center in New London in preparation for the first performances today. These will be free shows at 10 a.m. and noon for area school children.
Those in attendance will be among a whopping 36,000 local children who have seen the Eastern Connecticut Ballet's Nutcracker since the company first started performing it just over a decade ago.
For many in the audience, this will be their first time seeing the Nutcracker but that's not the only reason this will be a show to remember. This year, world-renowned guest artist Teresa Reichlen, New York City Ballet Principal Dancer, will dance the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Having Reichlen perform is a real coup for the company but, as the adage goes, it's not just what you know but who you know that counts and Eastern Connecticut Ballet's Artistic Director Gloria Govrin is a former dancer at the New York City Ballet. In fact, famed choreographer George Ballanchine created the choreography for Coffee, a character in the Nutcracker, specifically for Govrin.
Reichlin will be joined by 110 professionally trained Eastern Connecticut Ballet dancers who, under Govrin's careful tutelage, are dancing better than ever this year. They are so good that for the first time in the company's history, the challenging dance of the Dew Drop fairy will be performed by two students, Page Burns, 17, of East Lyme and Sarah Marsoobian, 17, of Guilford.
"That two of our own dancers have risen to the level where they can handle the material beautifully is a testament to the level of the work. It just keeps getting higher and higher," said Eastern Connecticut Ballet School Founder and Executive Director Lise Reardon. "When they see themselves improving they want to take the next step. We're very proud of them."
The coveted role of Clara this year will be played by two 12-year-old dancers, Anna Pelligrino, of Waterford, and Katie Deantonis of Old Saybrook, but more than 100 dancers from the school will be taking part in the production and dancing alongside well-known guest artists, including Amy Aldridge and Jonothan Stiles from the Pennsylvania Ballet.
A Locally-Inspired Production
Though the presence of guest artists from internationally-known ballet companies lends a higher degree of star power to this performance of the Nutcracker, the entire production has a distinctly local feel.
"We had a vision to create a Nutcracker that was personal for the region," said Reardon. "We have a rich maritime history here and we tapped into that."
The Eastern Connecticut Ballet's Nutcracker is set in New London, circa 1850, and has a seafaring theme. In this version of the Christmas classic, Clara's father is a sea captain who offers her visions of the exotic lands he's traveled to and showers her with gifts from faraway places. Instead of rats battling soldiers, this show has rat pirates battling sailors and here the tree becomes a ship that sails into a magical port.
Adding to the thrill of it all is the spectacular live music of Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. At a time when many ballet companies have folded or are being forced to cut costs by dancing to recorded music, Eastern Connecticut Ballet is one of the few that offers a truly authentic yet wholly unique presentation of this beloved holiday classic.
If you've never seen it, this would be the year to go. But even if you've seen it so many times you think you've seen it all before, you won't want to miss this Nutcracker.
Showtimes are Saturday, December 15 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and Sunday December 16 at 1:30 p.m. at New London's Garde Arts Center. For tickets, call The Garde at (860) 444-7373 or online at gardearts.org. Special military, senior and group discounts are available.