Not even a global pandemic can stop The Nutcracker. By making its production COVID-appropriate, with changes to the cast, sets, and rehearsal protocols, Ballet San Antonio has kept its annual holiday celebration alive.
“Especially in a year like this year, we all just needed some joy,” said Executive Director Evin Eubanks. “Something that [restored] our sense of normalcy, our tradition, and something fun to look forward to. And it was really important to us to try to find the most creative way we could still deliver that, that was safe for everyone involved.”
The production started Nov. 27, and runs through Dec. 13 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range in price from $40 to $114, with a special $500 package including two tickets, a parking pass, and other amenities such as a virtual visit with cast dancers and Artistic Advisor Sofiane Sylve.
A reduced cast, no special guests or children onstage, and digitally animated backdrops in place of the normally elaborate sets are all featured in The Nutcracker v. 2020, the ballet’s title for its pandemic-aligned version.
The San Antonio Report initially mistook the “v” in the title as “versus,” which Eubanks noted was understandable given how many challenges the year has thrown at the arts. She said it means “version 2020,” though Sylve suggested the title is open to interpretation.
“It’s the ‘v’ of victory,” she said, “of victory and resilience.”
Simply staging a dance could be considered an achievement, Sylve suggested, given the disruptions to the company’s season plans. After canceling the season opener Don Quixote, which was scheduled for October, the company welcomed back its dancers on Nov. 2 for rehearsals in preparation for The Nutcracker.
Sylve joined the company virtually from her headquarters in Dresden, Germany, working closely to coordinate and help choreograph a socially-distanced and streamlined version of the dance.
Based on her experience working with the Dresden Semperoper Ballett, Sylve created “pods” of dancers and established strict safety protocols, including temperature checks, face coverings, and timed rehearsals.
Moving ahead without the gaggle of children normally onstage was an obvious next step toward ensuring safety, Sylve said, followed by the elimination of most props to avoid the necessity for frequent decontamination. Intermission also was eliminated to avoid social gathering, and the performance reduced to 85 minutes.
The elaborate stage sets and constructed costumes Nutcracker is normally celebrated for were replaced by digitally-animated projections, creating larger than life images behind the live dancers, Eubanks said.
Lastly, the company brought in a video production team to film its dance. The effort was made specifically to continue to reach the 4,500 area students who would normally visit the Tobin Center to see performances live.
The filmed version of The Nutcracker v. 2020 will be streamed for free to all interested elementary and high schools in Bexar County on Dec. 16-18, with registration required. Eubanks said the video also will become available for public viewing on the H-E-B YouTube channel later in December.
Of the overall effort to mount a Nutcracker despite the challenges of 2020, Eubanks said, “it was just really important to us to do whatever we could in a creative and safe way to keep the tradition alive this year.”
And while COVID-19 has necessitated significant changes in the production, Sylve assured that audiences who attend or tune in will have much to celebrate. “You still have beautiful music, you have dancers dancing their hearts out. They’ve really worked hard, and I think everybody can appreciate that.”