The Nutcracker comes to life on Ardrey stage
By Kathleen Komos
A lonely nutcracker watches, unmoving from the shelf, as the girl he loves is asleep on the floor beneath the sparkling Christmas tree. The peaceful night is broken when Clara awakens to find herself as small as a mouse and in the midst of a terrifying battle between her nutcracker and the evil Mouse King.
The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra (FSO) partnered with the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Community Music and Dance Academy Ballet Troupe to perform Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. In addition to two full performances on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, the two groups also performed a condensed matinee.
Normally, the show consists of two acts. Within the first, a little girl named Clara receives a nutcracker for Christmas from her godfather during a family party. That night, she falls asleep in front of the tree and wakes up to find she has shrunk to the size of a toy. The Mouse King and his mouse minions are in a battle with the Nutcracker and his tin soldiers. When all seems lost, Clara throws her slipper at the Mouse King, which stuns him long enough for the battle to be won. The Nutcracker and Clara travel to the Land of Snow, a magical place of dancing snowflakes.
In order for kids to enjoy the show as much as possible, the matinee only performed Act Two. The second act takes place in the Land of Sweets ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. Both Clara and the Nutcracker watch dances from the different people of the land, including Chinese Tea and Spanish Coffee. In the end, Clara returns home to find her Nutcracker back on the shelf and wonders if it was all a dream. Afterward, there is a surprise visit from Santa Clause who, along with Emily Wells, the outreach coordinator, sang Christmas carols alongside the large crowd.
Wells was very pleased with the turnout and loved how both groups were able to give back to the community.
“This event was a big success. The matinee was even sold out,” Wells said. “I think it’s important that the children see this show. Not only has The Nutcracker become a holiday staple, but the show is a mix of both theater and music which is great for the kids to watch.”
Along with professional musicians, some NAU students joined with FSO in this performance. Although they had only been practicing for a week, the students hung on and dealt with unique challenges arising from Tchaikovsky’s music.
Chris Vennel, a senior and music performance major, played percussion. He thought the music was difficult because it demanded specific sounds and tones from his instruments.
“Although I did not have a huge part in the music, it was hard to get the sounds exactly right for the cymbals, for example,” Vennel said. “Tchaikovsky’s score could be really nitpicky, and we only had minimal practice this week.”
Shea Campbell, a senior and violin performance major, had a similar thought to Vennel.
“The violin music was really exposed during some of the pieces,” Campbell said. “This means not many other instruments are playing at the same time and it would be really easy to tell if the players were not playing together or if it’s bad.”
Despite the challenges involved, the students enjoyed their time working with the ballet company. In fact, the dancers were an exciting and fun new element the students had to work with.
“Along with the fantastic music, the dancers made it fun and added a great atmosphere,” Campbell said.
In order to be a part of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, the students had to audition. In some cases, the auditions could be very competitive and even some NAU music professors were a part of the orchestra already.
Ian Gryzb, a junior music education major, saw the audition as a challenge and a opportunity to push himself.
“I am a percussionist, which means the audition was pretty competitive,” Gryzb said. “I was auditioning against six other percussionists, but I really wanted to rise to the occasion.”
As a performance major, Vennel looks forward to the chance to play onstage as often as he can.
“Being in a professional symphony looks great on the resume,” Vennel said. “Plus, I get paid to play music and it’s a great opportunity to perform in a larger venue.”
In the end, all the students found working with the orchestra to be a great experience.
“It is more challenging than school orchestra,” Campbell said. “The rehearsals definitely have a faster pace to them.”
Carolyn Snyder, a senior viola performance and music education major, loved working with the other people involved in the orchestra.
“It was a great experience working with professors and members of the community,” Snyder said. “Plus, it was fun to see the dancers and the little girls were so cute.”
For more information on the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra and upcoming performances, visit their website at flagstaffsymphonyorchestra.org. Student tickets are $8.