“The Nutcracker” returns to its five-decade run this year, with freshly redesigned sets and lighting. (Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Ballet)

Nutcracker Magic Returns to Sacramento

Beloved ballet set to open after COVID-19 delay

Back Web Only Dec 10, 2021 By Judy Farah

Anthony Krutzkamp, the artistic and executive director of the Sacramento Ballet, can’t contain his excitement. “The Nutcracker,” the much-loved ballet about a young girl’s fantastical dream at Christmastime, is returning after a one-year absence due to COVID-19.

“There’s so much positivity right now. It’s ridiculous,” Krutzkamp says.

“The Nutcracker” has been a holiday tradition in Sacramento for more than five decades, with wide-eyed children from around the region turning out in their best party dresses and Christmas sweaters to see the classic ballet come to life. The elaborate, colorful sets transport them to a festive Christmas Eve party, a snowy wonderland and the gumdrop- and candy cane-filled Land of the Sweets.

This year, the Land of the Sweets set is hung with vines to make it “a much more magical place than a bunch of candy,” Krutzkamp says. He adds that a “magic box” will debut this year, but will not reveal what’s inside.

“The Nutcracker” opens December 11th at the newly refurbished SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center and will feature the Sacramento Philharmonic. (Illustration courtesy of the Sacramento Ballet)

This year’s version of “The Nutcracker” features 200 local children, some of who will take turns running out from under Mother Ginger’s tent-like dress. The Sacramento Ballet owns the original Mother Ginger skirt from the first American production of “The Nutcracker” in San Francisco in 1944 and will use it in this production. The children, who auditioned on an outdoor stage for COVID safety, and 19 principal dancers will perform in 12 shows over the holiday season.

On a recent December afternoon, Krutzkamp and his company rehearsed at E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts, known as the CLARA, in Midtown. Two alumni dancers, Nicole Haskins and Colby Damon, and current dancer Julia Feldman choreographed the 2021 production. Since October, the dancers have been rehearsing five days a week, six hours a day while wearing masks for COVID-19 health protocols. Krutzkamp started them out slow after their pandemic hiatus.

“I’m telling you the amount of excitement about opening night with everyone, it’s insane. It’s unbelievable.” 

Anthony Krutzkamp, artistic and executive director, Sacramento Ballet

“I really just wanted to focus on the dancers’ health after a long time off,” he says.

Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky wrote the music for “The Nutcracker,” first performed in Russia in December 1892 and based on the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. The tale centers around the young girl Clara, who receives a nutcracker from her eccentric godfather Drosselmeyer on Christmas Eve. Clara falls asleep clutching the nutcracker and drifts into a dream that takes her to the Land of Sweets to battle the Mouse King and meet the Sugar Plum Fairy. Though “The Nutcracker” was not well received upon its debut more than 125 years ago, it has become one of the most popular ballets in the world.

“In the battle scene is where it’s gorgeous, because the tree comes up and behind it, the toys. It really gives you the depth,” Krutzkamp says.

The classic sets are by designer Alain Vaes with lighting by Trad Burns, who has been doing lighting for more than 30 years for theater, dance and amusement parks, including Disneyland. “I’m really excited about the new lighting package. We’re going to be able to light in a way we never had before,” Krutzkamp says.

Krutzkamp has made some artistic changes in the second act. Instead of a Spanish dancer, there will be one named Cinnamon Spice, and the Russian dancer will instead be represented by a gnome and two mushrooms. 

So what makes “The Nutcracker” endure? “It just became ingrained in the holiday season. It’s also heartwarming. The principal dancer is a young female. It’s the only ballet that’s told through a child’s eye,” Krutzkamp says.

Opening night for “The Nutcracker” is December 11th at the newly refurbished SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center and will feature the Sacramento Philharmonic.  

Krutzkamp, a former principal dancer for the Cincinnati Ballet and former head of the Kansas City Ballet’s Second Company, admitted the pandemic was hard on his Sacramento troupe after the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.

“I’m telling you, the amount of excitement about opening night with everyone, it’s insane!” Krutzkamp says with a smile. “It’s unbelievable.”

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