Nutcracker Suite

The cast of this years Coconino High School’s production The Nutcracker rehearses for opening night Dec. 11.

The Nutcracker Suite is a Yuletide classic, beautifully accentuating the season of light, snow and magic. Bright lights, color and music paints a perfect picture of holiday cheer in this ballet. However, after seeing the same arrangements year after year, the members of the Canyon Movement Company thought it was about time to mix it up.

For 12 years, Canyon Movement Company has been taking the pointe shoes out of the performance, but keeping all of the wonder. The Nutcracker Suite in Modern Bare Feet is instead a modern dance ensemble, with more tumbles, rolls and inverted movements than traditional ballet. Bare feet on the stage make the whole performance somehow more casual, but no less spectacular. The dancers can break away from the staunch rules of traditional ballet and bring in concepts from other schools of dance, while keeping the flow and grace of the original.

Their first rehearsal on the main stage was held Nov. 20. Children ran in and out of the wings getting dressed and the whole cast exhibited an air of excitement. The assembly was of all ages, from small children to adults. The tiniest of tots played the mice and the young party attendees, while the adults are played by those of the accurate ages, such as Clara’s father, played by president of the board Eric Walden.

“You’re never too old,” Walden said. “I saw the production one year, saw some of the older dancers and asked, could I do that? This is my eighth production. You’re never too old to dance.”

The story is all the same. Clara Stahlbaum is gifted the beautiful nutcracker doll by her godfather Drosselmeyer. In the midst of the night, her nutcracker doll is transformed into a prince to fight the rat army that marches into Clara’s home. When Clara distracts the advancing Rat King with a slipper to the back of the head, the prince takes her to a land of wonder as thanks for saving his life.

Although the dances seem physically taxing and impressive, Canyon Movement Company has a team that seems to go the extra mile when preparing for shows.

“We have a group of really responsive dancers,” said executive director of the company Gina Darlington.

The rehearsal may have seemed rocky at first, but the timing had to be taken into account. For their first time on the stage where the final production would be held on, it went surprisingly smooth. The dancers knew their cues and routines nearly flawlessly, with only minor tweaks from the director, Cori Wall.

The stage seemed threadbare, with undecorated boxes serving as the dolls’ gift wrap. The initial rehearsal was void of lighting and set, with only the colorful costumes and props to paint the illusion. Still, the scene was clear due to the incredible work of the dancers who emoted even without words.

“And we’ll have a wonderful set later,” Darlington said. “A Christmas tree that grows and a screen in the back that we can project scenes onto. We plan to have some very special surprises.”

The surprises are never-ending. Where the original ballet had a myriad of dances representing different candies and treats from around the world, this version will exhibit a more accurately ethnic take on the land of sweets.

The Russian Candy Canes have been transformed into a Ukrainian folk dance full of jumps and leaps. The Chinese Tea has been replaced with a traditional ribbon dance lively with color. A French street art piece has been added, to introduce a hip-hop flair to break any monotony.

The pièce de résistance, however, is what replaces the Arabian Coffee. In this traditional belly dance, the women not only illustrate graceful movement with colorful iridescent fabrics made to look like wings, but perform half the dance while balancing swords on their heads.

“I have never seen a Chinese person dance like this,” Darlington said. She motioned her hands back and forth around her head to imitate the original ballet choreography. “We wanted to make it more diverse.”

The entire show is family friendly. Although the rats could be seen as malevolent and fierce, the beauty is really what takes the attention of the audience. Some complain that Drosselmeyer is often portrayed as creepy or scary, but Walden disagrees.

“When I played him a few years ago I was loving, benevolent,” Walden said.

“Magical is the word I would have used,” Darlington said, on Walden’s performance as Drosselmeyer.

For those who have seen the original Nutcracker, it is a beautiful retelling that will remind of the traditional tale while introducing new ideas and art forms to be appreciated. For those who have never seen this show, it is true to the integrity of the original ballet while including something for every kind of thespian.

The price is affordable and Coconino High School is just a short ride away. This show is a spectacular that should not be missed, with enough magic to start the holiday season off the right way. The show will take place on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Coconino High School.