172 Little Reasons To See This 'Nutcracker'
Around the world this month, ballet companies are enjoying their own version of Black Friday, staging "The Nutcracker." The holiday tradition is the key to financial stability for any company, and here in San Antonio, things are no different.
“It’s a very important production for all of us that are involved," says Ballet San Antonio's Executive Director, Courtney Barker. Her company is producing one of three "Nutcrackers" that you can see in San Antonio this season. What makes this one notable is that it’s the only all-local production—from the cast to the orchestra, and even the live children’s chorus that’s called for by Tchaikovsky in his score.
But beyond the sets, and the music, and the principal dancers, one of the largest and most important aspects of Ballet San Antonio’s Nutcracker is its children’s cast. All 172 of them! For Children’s Cast Director Sally Simmons, it’s a bit like herding cats. "It’s quite a task!" says Simmons, with a good-natured smile. "It takes a team, or an army, to rehearse them every single Saturday."
From September onward, Saturdays have been pretty much the only time Simmons gets together with the kids, until the week of the performance. "Trying to accommodate that many children in five hours is a task. But we run it pretty smoothly, and efficiently," she states. "I have to stay on track constantly. And if you listen to me, I’m constantly telling them ‘we have to go, we have to go,' there’s no break time at all."
Part of Simmons’ task is to teach the little mice, angels, tumblers and soldiers their steps. But another aspect of her job is to explain theater etiquette to her charges, from what to expect, to backstage rules. "I’m incorporating that every day in my rehearsals. It’s a challenge, but I love what I do."
Growing the children’s cast has been one of Courtney Barker’s goals. It’s a stroke of genius, really, because as she explains it, when more kids are involved, "We’re bringing more families that support the ballet company, and that’s what we need in this city.” True.
For Simmons, the process of training the children’s cast began in August, but now that performance week is here, it will all go by in a flash.
"It’s a sad day when it’s over, because you’re anticipating these long two weeks in the theater, [wondering] how we’re going to do it; and then it becomes exciting. And then all of a sudden it’s the last performance, and it’s sad to see the children go, [as well as] the parents and the volunteers who have helped us with the production," Simmons says.
And then Simmons perks up again. "But in January, we start talking about the next season, and the next 'Nutcracker.'" And the seasonal cycle of dance and music begins again.
Ballet San Antonio’s production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" opens at its new home, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, the day after Thanksgiving. Details and tickets are online at balletsanantonio.org, and TobinCenter.org.