Featured image: Ballerinas from The Nutcracker on the cover of the 2013-2014 Commonwealth Ballet’s program (copyright Commonwealth Ballet Company)
My introduction to The Nutcracker came during my first job after graduating college, when I offered to watch a co-worker’s eight-year-old son for an evening. He was interested in ballet, so we went to a performance at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. That night, I fell in love with the story of Clara and her magical dream of a giant Christmas tree, toys coming to life, the mouse war, a handsome prince, dancing snowflakes, and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Since then, The Nutcracker has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions. I have seen productions in large cities and small towns, with different interpretations, accompanied by recorded music and live orchestras. And I’ve enjoyed every variation.
But during my travels, one community ballet in New England captured my heart. Every year, when I need to travel there on business around the holidays, I plan my trip around the Commonwealth Ballet’s schedule.
I discovered the Commonwealth Ballet in 2010 while driving Route 27 in Acton, Massachusetts and seeing a street banner advertising The Nutcracker. The schedule on the ballet company’s website listed performances in two locations: the Acton-Boxborough High School on Thanksgiving weekend and Regis College in Weston the second weekend in December. Several guest dancers from the American Ballet Theatre in New York City played key roles, and Ade Chike Torbet, a Top 4 Finalist in Fox Network’s So You Think You Can Dance, starred as the Nutcracker. The other dancers were local.
I bought a ticket for a Sunday afternoon show at the high school and arrived 45 minutes early. The hallway outside the theater was dressed in garland and “Happy Holidays” signs. Volunteers at one table sold homemade Christmas cookies, chips, hot chocolate, coffee, and water. Nutcrackers of varying sizes filled another table, and all were for sale. There were even Nutcracker Christmas ornaments.
The theater was the typical high-school layout: a simple, practical wooden stage, with seats providing great views of the stage from every direction. The seats filled quickly, primarily with parents, their children, and grandparents. Most families knew each other and the local dancers, and the adults visited while excitement grew for the performance to start. Young girls in the audience, dressed in sequined dresses and as ballerinas, danced in place at their seats or spun in the aisles. Some of the boys well-versed in the ballet’s story re-enacted their own versions of the mice battle between rows and in front of the stage.
The performance was outstanding—realistic, colorful props and flawless dancing that drew in the audience. I felt as though I was beside Clara, experiencing her adventures first-hand in her dreams.
And it was fun—a true community experience.
Every year since then, I’ve enjoyed that same warm, welcoming experience.
Kathryn Anderson and Chip Morris founded the Commonwealth Ballet in 1992 and have held fully staged productions of The Nutcracker since 1998. The company, based in Acton, also hosts a spring production that alternates between full-length story ballets, such as Beauty and the Beast and The Nightingale, and mixed-bill repertory programs, some of which are original.
My favorite spring production was The Secret Garden. The emotional, delightful story of two unlikely friends discovering a hidden garden and its healing powers captured the audience, as did the robin’s and caretaker’s beautiful dancing inside the garden. The duo received a standing ovation at the end of the performance.
The robin dances in a Secret Garden ad on the back of a Commonwealth Ballet program. (copyright Commonwealth Ballet Company)
The next performances of The Nutcracker are Friday-Sunday, December 9-11, at the Eleanor Welch Casey Theatre on the Regis College campus, 235 Wellesley Street, Weston (view directions). The December 9 performance is “sensory-friendly,” meaning the lights will be left on slightly, the music volume lowered, and the stage action less intense. A “quiet zone” will also be available for anyone needing to relax for a few minutes.
Parking at Regis College is free.
The spring repertory program includes a new production by award-winning photographer Joseph Jeffries on Friday-Saturday, March 3-4, 2017, at the Boston University Dance Theater, 915 Commonwealth Avenue, in Boston (view directions, parking information, and public transportation options).
Buy tickets online or call the Commonwealth Ballet Company Box Office at (978) 263-7794.
The Commonwealth Ballet posted this downloadable poster on its website to encourage everyone to spread the word about its 2016 Nutcracker programs at Regis College (download poster in PDF). (copyright Commonwealth Ballet Company)