Kansas City Ballet's The Nutcracker
The Kansas City Ballet presents its 40th Annual production of The Nutcracker this holiday season (Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 14-16, 19-23). The enchanting costumes, stunning sets, choreography by Artistic Director Emeritus Todd Bolender, and Tchaikovsky’s memorable score, tell the unforgettable story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince as they journey to the Kingdom of the Sweets.
More than 200 area children who are students in the Kansas City Ballet School perform alongside 25 Kansas City Ballet Company dancers.
This year the holiday classic will again be performed in downtown's stunning new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The Nutcracker has touched Kansas City audiences since the first performance in the Southwest High School Auditorium on Wornall Road. It began with Founder Tatiana Dokoudovska and her choreography and vision in 1972.
KCB’s first Clara, Lisa (Merrill) Hickok, played the role for the first four Nutcracker performances. During the first two years, the Company performed the Nutcracker Suite, but by 1974 they began performing the full-length ballet. Hickok described her experience those early years as “exciting and scary.”
“At home I had to practice throwing a ballet slipper at the Mouse King. It paid off. I nailed that Mouse King every time!” Hickok remembers.
“Those early rehearsals with Miss Tania were great. At times it was just the two of us, but when it was time for everyone to rehearse together, and I had to perform with the Company, it was more frightening than performing in front of the audience.”
Miss Tania had a reputation for her incredible work ethic. She insisted on the best from her dancers. And, she knew all of the ballets by heart.
“One of my fondest memories involves Miss Tania. It was the final performance for me after four years as Clara. The production staff presented roses to Miss Tania on stage after she was brought out at the final bows. She gave them to me and it truly touched my heart. I’ll never forget that moment of her acknowledgement of my dedication...even as a 12-year old,” recalls Hickok. “It has impacted my desire to help this Company for the rest of my days.” (Hickok is currently a member of the Kansas City Ballet Board.)
A New Nutcracker
In December 1981 under the direction of Artistic Director Todd Bolender, The Nutcracker premiered to full houses. During his tenure, Bolender revamped the choreography, most notably in the Waltz of the Flowers. He also arranged for new costumes and in 1994, new sets designed by Robert Fletcher.
KCB dancer Kimberly Cowen had the privilege to work with Bolender. “Todd made you feel like you had to be on top of your game every step you took,” Cowen says. Cowen remembers Bolender wanted the first act to be all about the children. Not surprising since Bolender made it a point to start the KCB School. His dedication to teaching the next generation of dancers lives on.
The Spirit Lives On
In 1996 when Artistic Director William Whitener took the helm, the tradition of focusing on the kids continued.
“The kids really make it special and it’s their only chance to interact with us,” said Cowen. “I’ve been in The Nutcracker since I was 9 years old. I can’t imagine the holidays without Nutcracker. It definitely helps get you in the mood.”
But The Nutcracker is more than just a holiday tradition. It’s an important training tool for the dancers. “Nutcracker is one of the only times you get to perform your role more than two times,” Cowen says. “You get the chance to improve…grow. It’s interesting to see how people develop their role during the run.”
For more than 35 years, Nutcracker has continued to draw audiences and student performers alike. Many families attend every year as part of their holiday traditions. In the end, it’s about dreams.
“As the end of the run draws near, we’re (the Company) all excited the holiday is here. But the kids are so sad Nutcracker’s over. They’re nervous at the beginning of December, but by the end they’re having fun. You really see them change.”
Maybe that is where the magic comes from…
Kansas City Ballet’s The Nutcracker is one of the largest productions in an eight-state region. The Nutcracker runs Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 14-16, 19-23 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City. Call 816-931-2232 or visit www.kcballet.org for tickets and information.