The past year was no waltz; now Austin City Ballet's 'Nutcracker' returns for 20th year
Austin City Ballet dancers have longed for a return to dazzling sugar plums, warring mice and a lively toy Nutcracker. This holiday season, their wishes are about to come true.
After being canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" is set to return from Dec. 17-19 at the Boyd Vance Theater.
This is also the company's 20th anniversary. Established in 1991 as the Austin Conservatory of Dance, Austin City Ballet is a nonprofit for dancers between ages 7 and 18 who perform 12 to 16 theater productions each year.
Along with smaller showcases and demonstrations, the dance company performs the centuries-old tale of "The Nutcracker" every December.
"Everybody is so excited," artistic director Carol D'Avila said. "It's good to be back with the dancers I had before I closed my venue, but we also have new performers, as well."
During a recent rehearsal, dancer Nora Stephens and others glided across the Boyd Vance Theater stage, each step reflecting on the black, wooden surface as their garments flowed seamlessly with every movement.
Stephens, 8, who will be performing for the first time under Austin City Ballet, said she can't wait to piece together everything she's learned the past three months.
"I'm a little nervous, but I'm mostly excited, since it's my first time," said Stephens, who will play a party girl, a mouse and other roles. "I can't wait to perform on stage."
After the absence of the ballet in 2020, dancers Arden Choi, 14, and Hannah Doerr, 16, said they are thrilled to be able to fulfill their love of dance and put on an entertaining show for first time-attendees and seasoned fans again.
"I was kind of disappointed we didn't get to do it last year," said Choi, who will play Clara and perform for her fourth year. "'The Nutcracker' is definitely the highlight of my year, and the community is so inclusive and well-versed, it's like family."
Doerr, who's playing the Snow Queen, the Russian soloist and other characters in her seventh year, added, "I love performing and getting on stage with all my friends to put out something we've been working on for like three months long."
Given the months of planning and dance rehearsals, D'Avila said attendees can expect the same level of entertainment as in years past. But it didn't always seem that way.
On March 14, 2020, Austin City Ballet was forced to cancel its planned performances as the pandemic shut everything down. In July 2020, they had to leave their most recent studio space, resulting in D'Avila and her dancers bouncing between different dance spaces.
Being a nomadic studio is definitely difficult — "toting props and costumes around 24/7 and paying for 450 square feet of storage space every month is tough," D'Avila said. "But we keep on keeping on."
Among the biggest challenges, D'Avila said, was the loss of longtime teacher and choreographer Terri Lynn Wright, who died of cancer on Dec. 10, 2020, the day that last year's Nutcracker was supposed to open.
"It's very important we carry this on in her name," D'Avila said. "This 20th anniversary Nutcracker is dedicated to (Wright) and how amazing and influential she was to me, my students, our audiences and everyone who knew her."
With the obstacles overcome, D'Avila said it's served as a source of inspiration to push forward and put on a memorable performance weekend.
Along with the classic elements of the centuries-old tale, this year's "Nutcracker" will include adult performers and guest artists Jared Brunson as the Nutcracker Cavalier, Austin City Ballet alum Alexandra Gutman as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Ivry Newsome, who will reprise his role as the Rat King.
"It's the beauty that art brings to the world that I'm excited about sharing again after the challenges we as a nation have gone through in the last two years or so," Newsome, 54, said. "It's exciting to share the art form with others."
If you go
The 20th anniversary performances of Austin City Ballet's "The Nutcracker" are Dec. 17-19 at the Boyd Vance Theater inside the George Washington Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina St.
Performances will be held 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18, and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 19.
Tickets, $20 for children 3-12 and $35 for ages 13 and older, are on sale at acbnutcracker20121.bpt.me.