Community members create winter wonderland escape in “The Nutcracker”


The Champaign Urbana Ballet performs a waltz with Clara and her prince during a “The Nutcracker” performance in 2012. 

By Olivia Catuara

Community members can prepare to witness battles between mice and soldiers, scenes of snow and sweets, and Clara dancing through a magical dream with her prince in the Champaign Urbana Ballet’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker” this weekend.

“For many people, ‘The Nutcracker’ is a holiday tradition that marks the start of the Christmas season,” said Terry Bush, head of publicity for the Champaign Urbana Ballet and father of one of the ballet’s performers. 

Thursday through Sunday, the Champaign Urbana Ballet will perform the two-act ballet in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts’ Tryon Festival Theatre. Sinfonia da Camera will serve as the accompanying orchestra under the direction of Ian Hobson. 

The performances will feature 130 dancers, some as young as 5 years old, from all over the Champaign-Urbana area. In September, a record number of 180 people came for the open auditions, which was publicized through flyers distributed across community schools. Dancers of all ages were encouraged to try out. The performance has a double cast to allow more people to be involved in the production.

This will be the 16th year for the Champaign Urbana Ballet to put on “The Nutcracker.” While the choreographer will introduce some subtle changes into the performance this year, the ballet’s classic story won’t change. The Ribbon Candy Dance will now incorporate actual ribbons, and a new two-person dance called a Pas de Deux will be added to Waltz of the Flowers scene. A footman character will also be included to the holiday party scene to add some comedy to the performance, 

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Volunteers, including many of the performers’ parents, have helped with costume creation, set construction, makeup, outreach and logistics. 

Deanna Doty, artistic director and choreographer, designs all of the costumes for the performance. Doty has been involved in the Champaign Urbana Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” since the dance company’s first performance in 1998. 

Doty and volunteers handmade all of the costumes; none of the costumes are pre-ordered or out of a box.

“Deanna is incredibly talented, and it’s her vision that drives this,” said Producer Terri King. “What you see on stage is all her design and artistic ability.”

Each year, more than 250 kids attend a Champaign Urbana Ballet production for free through the company’s Tickets for Kids program. The Champaign Urbana Ballet has introduced many children to ballet because of it, and some of the kids have gone on to dance in “The Nutcracker” performance. Schools identify these elementary and pre-school students as at risk because of financial, hearing, speech or physical disabilities, King said.

The dancers in the cast of “The Nutcracker” had 12 weekend rehearsals leading up to their first performance Thursday night.

There was only one joint rehearsal with both the Champaign Urbana Ballet and Sinfonia da Camera, which took place Wednesday night.

Many members of the orchestra have already played in “The Nutcracker” performance multiple times.

“Sinfonia da Camera is a professional chamber orchestra, so its members are able to perform very well with limited rehearsal time,” said Evan Tammen, Sinfonia da Camera operations manager. 

Sinfonia da Camera first performed “The Nutcracker” with the Champaign Urbana Ballet in 2003 and has since continued to accompany the holiday performance. The orchestra consists of 44 members, a maestro and more than a dozen different instruments. During the performance, the orchestra sits below the stage in “the pit.” 

Sinfonia da Camera music director and maestro Ian Hobson is the swanlund professor of piano in the University’s School of Music. 

Tammen said Sinfonia da Camera loves being part of a holiday tradition that is cherished by the community, young and old.  

“The story is quite magical,” Bush said. “Tchaikovsky’s music is beautiful and memorable; many people are familiar with the themes but may not realize they come from ‘The Nutcracker.’” 

The ballet will be performed Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Seats are still available for Thursday’s and Sunday’s evening performances. Tickets range from $18 to $38, and they can be purchased via phone or at the Krannert Center’s ticket office.

Olivia can be reached at [email protected].