One of Columbia’s greatest holiday traditions is kicking off over Thanksgiving weekend when Ann Brodie’s Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at Township Auditorium.
This spectacular holiday classic features international guest artists and a company of more than 150 performers. It’s also the only “Nutcracker” production in town to feature a full orchestra and chorus.
“Anything can happen with live music,” said John Whitehead, who serves as both executive director and executive artistic director of Carolina Ballet, a civic company that trains young dancers from their days as little dancing mice, all the way to pre-professional.
“As a civic company, we believe that every child who wants to dance should be able to,” Whitehead said. “We will be able to find a place for them alongside the pre-professional dancers and invited guests. Everything builds itself up. They rise to a different level.”
Whitehead emphasized that the live orchestra and choir don’t just add to the atmosphere of the performance – they are an essential teaching tool.
Backed by the Columbia Festival Orchestra, conducted by Neil Casey, and St. Peter’s Catholic School’s choir, Capella Pueri, this “Nutcracker” production is based closely on the linear notes created by 19th-century choreographers Lev Ivanov and Ivan Petipa, who worked in collaboration with composer Tschaikovsky.
“ ‘Nutcracker’ was designed to showcase the talents of the imperial school at the time,” Whitehead said. “We took those linear notes and developed our story around them. It’s pretty accurately based on what would have happened in its first production in the 1800s.”
To mark the annual production’s 30th anniversary, Carolina Ballet is welcoming home a number of old students for this year’s “Nutcracker.”
“These dancers studied here and trained here,” says Whitehead, “They are off dancing professionally in other parts of the country and are able to take time off of their professional jobs to perform where they started.”
Eric Beckham, a Columbia native who recently joined the Miami City Ballet and trained with Carolina Ballet beginning at age 8, will perform as the Nutcracker Cavalier.
“I'm very excited to perform for my family and friends,” he said, “and also my teachers who set me up for the moment to be able to perform (as the) Cavalier, something I've looked forward to doing since I started with Carolina Ballet.”
In addition to Beckham, alumni returning for this performance include Caleb Roberts, who danced with the Cincinnati Ballet, as the Snow Cavalier; Corey Mangum, a member of the New York-based Ajkun Ballet and a guest artist with the Connecticut Ballet, performing in the Arabian Coffee divertissement; and Nicholas White, who danced with the North Carolina Dance Theatre, performing in the Spanish Chocolate divertissement.
This year’s production will also feature international guest artists like Korean dancer Seyhuan Jin as the Sugar Plum Fairy; Kevin Hernandez, a finalist in the World Ballet Competition, who will dance the Russian Sugar Twist divertissement; and Eriberto Jimenez, a native of Bogotà, Colombia, as Count Silberhaus. Jimenez, Carolina Ballet’s Guest Artist-in-Residence, created the choreography for the Spanish Chocolate divertissement and for many years danced that role for the organization.
“After 30 years, it’s been fun,” Whitehead said. “We’ve trained a lot of people, and now they’re sharing their talents with us yet again.”
He adds that Columbia’s “Nutcracker” tradition is a special one. “We’re very lucky that we have two professional companies and a civic company,” Whitehead said, referring to the Columbia Classical Ballet and Columbia City Ballet, which will perform their own versions of the ballet in the next few weeks. “We’re a very dance-oriented community.”
If you go
Ann Brodie’s Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker”
10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21 (sold out)
10 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22 (dedicated to the city of Columbia and Richland County first responders)
7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26
WHERE: Township Auditorium, 1703 Taylor St.
TICKETS: $35 at ticketmaster.com.