The Nutcracker: COVID-19 edition

Despite the pandemic, the Nutcracker will still be performed and available for viewing via livestream. Photo by Claire Runkel.

ALEX LINDSEY | STAFF REPORTER | aklindse@butler.edu 

Every holiday season, the Butler community gathers in Clowes Memorial Hall to watch Butler ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” to get in the festive spirit. This year however, they must forego the red velvet seats for living room couches. Choosing to eliminate an in-person performance is only one of the changes being made to accommodate health and safety guidelines. 

One of the biggest changes that audiences will notice is the absence of any partnering work and traditional choreography. Butler Ballet has adapted its rehearsals and classes since the start of the semester by adhering to mask-wearing and social distancing at all times. At this point in the semester, many dancers have adapted to this new normal, and are excited that they will still have the chance to perform. 

One of these dancers is Daniel Scofield, a senior dance arts administration major, who will be dancing the role of the Nutcracker Prince.

“It’s exhilarating, it’s challenging, it’s fun to connect with my partner and it’s so beautiful,” Scofield said. “The music is beautiful, the choreography is beautiful and I’m so excited to put it onstage.” 

One of the most important aspects of dancing in a pas de deux, or dance of two, is to maintain a palatable emotional connection between partners in order to portray the thoughts of the characters — something that can be especially challenging when physical touch is out of the question.

The Nutcracker Prince appears in many different scenes of the Nutcracker, but the role is most well known for the “Grand Pas De Deux” danced with the Sugar Plum Fairy, a role filled  by Claire Barnett, a senior dance-arts administration major.  

“It’s very exciting and such an honor and a privilege,” Barnett said. “It’s so much fun to become this character and to feel like I’m this princess for a day. It’s very regal, it’s very beautiful and it’s been a challenge to fit my kind of style within the Sugar Plum’s part. The biggest change that you’ll probably notice is that there is no physical touching, which is a huge aspect of a ‘pas de deux’ traditionally.”

Butler Ballet professors have worked with the students to change the choreography that has been performed nearly unchanged for years. Josiah Lax, a junior dance-pedagogy major, will be performing the role of Snow King and said he has enjoyed the creative process of working adapting choreography to something different than what he has danced the past two years.

“It certainly has been interesting to work with them this year because they are making new choreography, rather than just setting the same things they have been doing for the past few years,” Lax said. “It is definitely exciting being able to work as if it is being created for the first time.”

To work with these new guidelines while maintaining the emotion of the show, professors have kept the same general structure of each piece, but have had to change much of the traditional choreography. Dancers are unable to perform grand movements like partnered lifts and turns, but are finding other ways to exercise their creativity. 

The professors also have to be mindful of the dancers’ stamina, since they are each dancing on their own for the entire ballet and are required to wear masks and gloves while onstage. Aside from movements, technical aspects like masks and costumes are also being adapted to maintain safety among dancers.

“For the second act specifically all the divertissement [shorter dances in the second act] masks are supposed to be matching the costumes themselves so it’s kind of just an extension of the tutus and the tunics that men are wearing and things of that nature,” Scofield said. “For the first act though it’s gonna be somewhat comedic in that the party men will have different facial hair drawn onto their masks and the party women will have different makeup designs.”

Another change impacts the dancers’ tutus since ballet tutus traditionally have rows of hooks and eyes on the back to fit differently sized dancers. Since each dancer cannot reach their hooks behind them, they usually have to have someone else hook the costume up for them. In order to avoid this contact, the costumes have been completely redesigned.

Despite the inability to view the performance in person, this year’s “Nutcracker” is sure to highlight the resourcefulness and creativity of Butler Ballet — from the dancers themselves, to the professors, to the costume designers and filming crew. 

“It is really cool to see how everyone is collaborating to make this happen,” Barnett said.

If members of the Butler community want to see the show, no ticket purchases are required, as the performances will be pre-recorded at Clowes on Friday, Nov. 13 and Saturday, Nov. 14. The streaming link will become available on Friday, Nov. 27 at 12 a.m. on the Butler Events website.

 

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