This year, Columbia City Ballet celebrates its 50th anniversary of “The Nutcracker,” making it the longest consecutively running performing arts event in South Carolina. Once again, “Nutcracker” is waltzing into the Koger Center for the Arts with six performances Saturdays and Sundays from Dec. 9-17. Here’s everything you’ll want to know about this snow-filled celebration.
This year’s production will feature critically acclaimed professional dancers along with some famous names, including Katherine LaNasa (“Imposters,” “Devious Maids”), dancing the role of Clara’s mother, and Grant Show (“Melrose Place”), surprising the audience as Mother Ginger during the first weekend. The audience will also spot some local celebrities, such as WIS’s Rick Henry and Judi Gatson.
They’ve pulled out all the stops.
“For the golden anniversary, we wanted to make it a big production,” said William Starrett, Columbia City Ballet’s executive and artistic director.
This year, Starrett said he is trying to look at the production with “a fresh pair of eyes.” In honor of the event, the company has created a new golden costume for the Nutcracker Prince, as well as one for Mother Ginger based on the wedding gown of Marie Antoinette.
The production changes every year.
The Columbia City Ballet’s first full production of “Nutcracker” was in 1967, but they aren’t exactly sticking to a script.
“Every year, I really change up the production,” Starrett said. “I take some liberties here and there to keep it fresh.”
This year, he is rethinking Clara’s dream, in which she travels with the Nutcracker Prince through the land of the sweets.
For a few surprises, keep your eyes pinned for clues that tie the story together, like a giant bouquet placed on a table reminiscent of the Waltz of the Flowers, or a maid trying to catch a rat that might show up later to battle a toy soldier.
There are 150 local children in the cast.
Ranging in age from 4 to 16, the children perform alongside 29 professional dancers and 14 adult extras. “Even though it’s my 31st year, it’s the child’s first year,” Starrett said. “I want to make sure it’s magical for them and for the audience. … The great part is having the children discover the art and discover ‘The Nutcracker.’ ”
According to Starrett, having one of the largest casts means lots of momentum onstage.
“There’s a lot of movement,” he said, adding that there are more than 60 dancers onstage through Act One, and more than 30 during the Waltz of the Flowers.
Not in Columbia? Not a problem.
This year, Columbia City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is traveling to eight cities in three states, including Sumter, Lancaster, Savannah, Charleston, Florida and Hartsville. “We’ve been touring it now extensively for the last 10 to 12 years,” said Starrett, who auditions and features local children in every city the company visits.
Starrett attributes the show’s popularity to touring, the holiday spirit, and the universal appeal of “Nutcracker.”
“What I’m realizing is that Tchaikovsky was brilliant,” he said. “We really get a tour through the United Nations. It’s really unifying. It’s really all the countries and all the different cultures coming together. … It really unites all of us. And the music quality unites us. And what’s better than dreaming of being in the land of the sweets?”
If you go
Columbia City Ballet presents “Nutcracker”
WHEN: Dec. 9-17; 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Saturdays.
WHERE: Koger Center for the Arts, 1051 Greene St.
TICKETS: $20-$48 online or at the Koger Center box office, 803-251-2222.
WORTH NOTING: Guests can take photos with Santa during intermission at each matinee performance. Families can also purchase tickets for a Nutcracker tea before each matinee at 1:30 p.m. with special appearances by the characters.