andrew kruse-ross | newdo | nov. 2019
The Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization returns to the Meyer Theatre stage to present five performances of the Green Bay Nutcracker Ballet over Thanksgiving weekend.
It's hard to believe that what's now an iconic holiday classic wasn't nearly as successful when first introduced to Russian audiences more than 120 years ago.
“When it started out it wasn't very popular,” says Timothy Josephs, artistic director of NEWDO. “It really became popular when a man named George Balanchine brought it here to New York.”
That production took place in 1954, more than 60 years after the initial performance in Saint Petersburg and more than 10 years after the full ballet's staging on the West Coast in 1944.
Despite the slow road to popularity, audiences from the 1960s onward have come to embrace “The Nutcracker” in earnest, especially around the holidays.
Somewhat similarly NEWDO has had a slow rise to become the organization that it is today. Founded in 1973, the organization was founded to produce professional works of dance involving both the community and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. After some years of dormancy, the organization was turned over to the Wisconsin Ballet Theatre. With that theatre's closing, NEWDO is now an independent 501(c)3 sharing a space on Washington Street with the Green Bay School of Dance.
While not the only opportunity to see a NEWDO performance throughout the year, Josephs says “The Nutcracker” is “the highlight of the year” for the organization.
The same might be said for audiences. To meet the demand, NEWDO now offers five performances instead of three, as was the case in the Green Bay Nutcracker Ballet's first year.
According to Josephs, the popularity of “The Nutcracker” is the result of the show offering something to audiences regardless of age.
“It's a charming story about a young girl, that has an appeal for children with the storyline and the costumes and color … and it has an appeal for adults because of the nature of the dance that's taking place.”
Then, of course, there's the iconic score penned by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
“The thing is it's incredible music. It's a wonderful score,” says Josephs. “I remember a famous choreographer said, 'If people don't like my ballet they can always close their eyes and listen to the music.'”
The popularity of “The Nutcracker” is evident today, with seemingly countless productions taking shape in various forms from coast to coast. That popularity appears to be on the rise. In 2013 Crain's New York Business reported the number of Nutcracker productions had surged 69 percent since 2010.
2006, the inaugural year for NEWDO's Nutcracker, was a busy one for Nutcracker productions in and around Northeastern Wisconsin.
Such was the popularity of “The Nutcracker” at the time, considerable care was made to distinguish their performance from others in the area. As the only organization presenting “The Nutcracker” as a ballet that year, and to mark the distinction between itself and performances in De Pere, the title of the Green Bay Nutcracker Ballet was adopted and so remains to this day.
“There's nothing worse than having somebody say, 'I went to The Nutcrackerand I didn't see you.' because they were at the wrong Nutcracker,” says Angie Flanagan, NEWDO's social media manager.
Despite the ever-growing popularity, “The Nutcracker” represents a substantial endeavor for an organization to present. With a cast calling for more than 90 dancers, an elaborate wardrobe and set designs to consider, simply getting the production to the stage is a monumental undertaking and one that is years in the making.
“We had a number of discussions about doing a Nutcracker,” says Josephs. “I was with a number of organizations that had talked about it in the past but we could never get it up off of the ground but this time we did.”
Josephs credits the creative minds on the organization's board at the time and subsequent funding campaign that enabled the purchase of costumes for two of the show's larger scenes — Waltz of the Flowers and the Snow Scene — as well as initial sets to be created.
The sets from the production's early years are still in use today and have been added to over subsequent years.
And, to meet the extensive needs of such a large cast, 12 or more area studios — including those from the Fox Valley — are represented in performances of the Green Bay Nutcracker Ballet. Some students have traveled extensively to be part of this show, which features performers of all ages — some even as young as 3 years old.
“We've had dancers come from Milwaukee to perform with us, coming up every weekend. One year we actually had a girl who had danced with us the year before here move to Indianapolis and came back on the weekends to perform with us and rehearse,” says Josephs.
And, coming all the way from North Carolina, NEWDO welcomes five professional dancers from the Carolina Ballet, three of which are former Green Bay residents that trained at the Green Bay School of Dance. Randi Osetek, McKenzie Van Oss and Taylor Ayotte return to Green Bay in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Elder Clara, and Snow Queen and Lead Marzipan respectively.
The trio serves as a testament to the talent fostered in the Green Bay area. As Josephs explains, it's not uncommon for exceptional students to leave the area in order to pursue the next level of their dance training.
To their credit, Josephs and Flanagan — both Green Bay School of Dance instructors — have had three students go on to attend the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City. Osetek is one of those students.
“That's what she did, she left and attended the School of American Ballet,” says Flanagan. “That's like the definitive school in America — the American style of ballet was formed at that school.”
Serendipitously, the aforementioned George Balanchine, whom “The Nutcracker” owes for much of its popularity, was one of the school's founders.
In keeping with the organization's mission, NEWDO often welcomes back former students that have gone on to dance professionally. Osetek has returned in the capacity for all but one of NEWDO's Nutcracker productions.
It was in these return visits that she met Van Oss and Ayotte when they were “just little girls.” Watching them develop and grow, Osetek was able to bring their skills to the Carolina Ballet as well.
For Osetek, returning to Green Bay represents the completion of a dream shared with her instructors.
“I remember Tim (Josephs) always had a dream of doing a full-length Nutcracker there,” says Osetek. “And we'd also talked about bringing me back to do the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy which is every girl's dream to do.
“For me it's a huge pleasure, I come back with great pride to do that amazing role and be able to see all these young girls and boys.
“It's my favorite thing to look forward to every year, to inspire young dancers and show them … that dreams do come true.”
The Green Bay Nutcracker Ballet runs Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at the Meyer Theatre. Performances are at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the 29th and 30th and at 1 p.m. on Dec. 1.
Tickets are $17.50 and up and available via meyertheatre.org or ticketstaronline.com.
For more information on NEWDO visit newdo.org.
Other opportunities to see the NEWDO in action include Dec. 20-21 during the Holiday Pops concert at the Weidner Center and again on Feb. 15, 2020, with the Civic Symphony of Green Bay at the Meyer Theatre.