Every year for the past 27, William Starrett has been faced with a challenge: How to make a perennial classic fresh and new.
Columbia City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” will dance its way into the Koger Center for its yearly seven-show run this weekend. Starrett and his nearly 200-member cast of children, actors and adult dancers will try to top themselves in a production that has become a holiday tradition for the company and many Columbia residents.
“The goal is not to just be as good as we were last year, but to be better,” Starrett said. “That’s the nature of the art form, to constantly strive for perfection.”
This year, Starrett looked at the ballet through the eyes of Uncle Drosselmeyer, who gives his goddaughter Clara the toy nutcracker, setting the production’s plot in motion. Starrett also closely examined the music and said there will be a “tremendous amount of new, exciting stuff.”
Those additions include a new opening to the ballet’s famous snow scene and six new types of costumes.
“What I try to do is really make it new and fresh every year,” Starrett said. “It’s an opportunity for me to really let the audience see high art.”
The Columbia City Ballet retained all of its company members this season, meaning all the professional dancers have danced in the company’s production of “The Nutcracker” before. This has helped enhance the storytelling in the classic ballet and fine-tune the dancing, Starrett said.
The company has been working on the ballet since August, when the large cast of children was chosen. The inclusion of so many children enhances the quality of the production, which is centered around a young girl’s dream world, Starrett said.
“Children add a lot of dimensions and a lot of dynamics,” he said. “One of the most exciting things about Christmas is the children and watching them enjoy the holiday.”
Starrett is also looking to top last year’s record ticket sales. The 2012 production of “The Nutcracker” sold the most tickets since the Columbia City Ballet first performed it 53 years ago, and this year’s show may be on track to do the same. The production has seen record audiences for tour performances in Lancaster, Sumter and Savannah.
“Of course we’re hoping,” Starrett said. “It’s looking like we’re going to go that same way.”
For Starrett, every year gets better.
“You’re just going to see the music come to life on such a high level,” he said. “You will see the music coming alive and making sense in front of your eyes. It’s an awakening for the audience.”