Ballet Austin’s "The Nutcracker," which normally draws about 30,000 people to the Long Center for the Performing Arts each year, will transform into a virtual and interactive experience for two weeks in December because of the coronavirus crisis.
Each edition of "The Nutcracker: Home for the Holidays" will be offered over a series of dates that mirror Ballet Austin's traditional performance window at the Long Center.
"In the past, people have come to our home for ‘The Nutcracker,’" said Cookie Ruiz, the company’s executive director. "Now we will come to their homes."
Ballet Austin plans to release more details about tickets for the online platform for proposed content that will include videos, reinterpreted dances, interviews and interactions with dancers and dozens of video-on-demand featurettes.
The company will offer its season ticket holders complimentary access to the virtual experience.
Ballet Austin is not alone in canceling in-person performances of "The Nutcracker," which account for a big slice of many ballet companies’ attendance, income and wider community contact. New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet are among the large companies that had already canceled the holiday classic by midsummer.
So far, the Austin troupe has avoided layoffs through two rounds of the federal government’s paycheck protection program. Nevertheless, its artist-athletes are unavoidably rusty. So far, they have mostly honed their craft through digital classes, but soon they can work in Ballet Austin’s downtown studios in "pods" of five dancers.
The company’s artistic director, Stephen Mills, explained the difficulty of imagining traditional performances of "The Nutcracker," which features more than 200 people on stage, including some 140 student dancers from the Ballet Academy and celebrity appearances as Mother Ginger.
"Ballet dancing requires strenuous, aerobic activity and close contact among performers," Mills said. "Behind the scenes and in the orchestra pit, you’ll find dozens of musicians, stage crew members and Ballet Austin administrative and customer service staff working in close proximity.
"We’ve not yet reached the stage in our community-wide recovery from the coronavirus where we can safely rehearse and perform a show of ‘The Nutcracker's’ magnitude without risking the health and safety of our artists, crew and staff."
And yet Mills, Ruiz and company are determined to share dance — and Tchaikovsky’s beloved music — with the community during the holiday. Over the course of the past few weeks, they have filled pages and pages of notebooks with creative ideas for engaging a physically distant audience.
"This will be one of our most collaborative endeavors in Ballet Austin’s more than 60-year history and one that involves the audience like never before," Mills said. "We can’t wait for ‘Nutcracker’ lovers and their families to revisit this special tradition in a transformative new way."