Li Chiao-Ping's Knotcracker: Imaginative and challenging.
During the holiday season, The Nutcracker wafts through stores in myriad musical forms, from jazz to klezmer. There are also many versions of the ballet that goes with Tchaikovsky's famous score. I checked in with the directors of three local dance companies to learn more about their upcoming productions.
Madison Ballet's Nutcracker (Dec. 15-24, Overture Center's Overture Hall) is the most traditional local production but contains some surprises, such as a flying velvet settee and a Thai makeover of the Chinese Variation. Over the past 33 years, artistic director W. Earle Smith has performed nearly every male role, from Party Dad to Cavalier. He loves being "surprised every year, especially when I see...a 14- or 15-year-old in a divertissement and remember when she was a baby mouse or Clara."
Ballet fans will be pleased to see Marguerite Luksik as adult Clara. Her exquisite take on the role will be enhanced by live music from members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and lush scenery, such as an English garden that looks as if it was planted by Timothy Leary (I mean this as a compliment).
Madison Ballet will also offer an irreverent take on The Nutcracker with their new Nutty Nut (Dec. 22, Overture Hall), which Smith describes as "something different for audiences and something fun for the cast." This slapstick spoof will have the quality dancing for which the Madison Ballet is known, but with sly, Wisconsin-centric humor and surprise guests.
Dance Wisconsin adds carolers from Monona Grove High School, ballroom dancers, a giant teddy bear and the cutest dancing snowmen ever to its Nutcracker Fantasy (Dec. 7-9, Madison College's Mitby Theater). Artistic director Jo Jean Retrum, a former Sugar Plum Fairy, says the ballet is such an enduring classic because "everyone likes a party." Dance Wisconsin's 80-person cast is especially festive, with colorful costumes featuring period hats and hairdos.
Two acclaimed guests will perform the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Ashley Bouder, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and her husband, Matthew Dibble, who has danced in England's Royal Ballet and Twyla Tharp's Broadway musical Come Fly Away, will wow audiences with their technique.
Though Li Chiao-Ping Dance's The Knotcracker (Nov. 30-Dec. 2, Overture Center's Playhouse) bears little resemblance to The Nutcracker, it has quickly become a holiday tradition. Artistic director Li Chiao-Ping describes this exuberant modern dance as "a lot of fun with a point." With imaginative costuming and set pieces aplenty, you'll briefly see tutus and hear classical ballet music (Prokofiev, not Tchaikovsky).
Like Clara, the protagonist, Little Miss Steps, faces adversity and shares a message about accepting oneself and others. This year, the role will be danced by both a boy and a girl. Li says the casting will help audience members examine their assumptions and look beyond what's obvious.
Other Nutcrackers will be presented by the Madison Dance Academy (Nov. 30-Dec. 1, Sun Prairie High School Performing Arts Center), the Kehl School of Dance (Dec. 1-2, Waunakee High School Performing Arts Center) and Verona Youth Ballet (Dec. 15, Verona High School Performing Arts Center).