The Arabian coffee, Spanish chocolates and Chinese tea lithely pas de deux and chassé across the stage as Clara and her Nutcracker Prince sit and watch with delight. As they finish their performance for the mouse-conquering heroes, the confections line the stage, signaling the arrival of the Queen of the Kingdom of Sweets. The Sugar Plum Fairy takes one graceful step, then another — then finally pirouettes onto the scene, inspiring awe in Clara and the sweets alike.
Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets from $14
Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre’s (AABT) annual production of “The Nutcracker” ballet follows E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” to the music of P.I. Tchaikovsky. The ballet premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in December 1892 and has been a classic holiday tradition ever since.
Carol Radovic, founder and artistic director of AABT, brought the spirit and style of Russian ballet to Ann Arbor when she started her company in 1980. Having trained with the Bolshoi Ballet and at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Radovic said her production of “The Nutcracker” echoes the original choreography and method of the Russian ballet.
“Russian ballet integrates the arms, the hands, the feet, the upper torso, the tilt of the head,” Radovic said. “You’re constantly doing things that are so much more complex (than other styles of ballet). But people that soak and let it permeate become much better dancers.”
Because the AABT invites dancers of all skill levels to join, teaching choreography in the rigorous Russian style has been challenging, Radovic said. Yet the mix of dancers fits well with the large assortment of characters in “The Nutcracker.” By implementing her original choreography, Radovic is able to play up the abilities of each of her dancers.
“We get dancers from all over, and we get to be a little melting pot of dancers from all different backgrounds,” Radovic said. “As much as you think it’s about your choreography, you find ways to move it around so that a particular dancer really shines. It’s a fluid thing and it’s not cast in stone.”
As dancers become acquainted with their role in the ballet, Radovic ensures each ballerina and ballerino feels comfortable with his or her character, since this, according to Radovic, is the key to a stunning performance.
“One of the comments I’ve heard for is, ‘So, Carol, you only have beautiful people in your company. Do you pick them for that?’ But that’s the very nature of dancers,” she said. “I’m picking people that can dance, and placing them into roles they can stand out in. Because they can dance, they become more beautiful.”
AABT’s “The Nutcracker,” complete with a colorful mix of dancers of various ages, is the company’s most important event of the season. Radovic explained that this performance evokes the spirit of the holidays through the technical mastery of the ballet performers.
“Every company that can do a ‘Nutcracker’ does ‘The Nutcracker,’ because it’s the one time of the year that people are caught up with the holidays and festivities, so it has that universal attraction (for) people,” Radovic said.
This holiday tradition gives audiences a chance to discover an art form that might have otherwise gone overlooked.
“A large variety of people that come to it say, ‘Wow, I really like this,’ and maybe that will send them to another ballet somewhere else, or back to us for another show,” Radovic said. “You can entice them with this holiday gala event.”