By Julie Pompa
For most Toledo-area families, attending (or participating in) “The Nutcracker” has been an annual holiday tradition. The toy soldiers, Sugar Plum Fairy and Mother Ginger return this December, with four public performances and one student performance (in-person and live-streamed).
“I’m ecstatic that we’ll have a live audience back,” said Lisa Mayer- Lang, artistic director with the Toledo Ballet. After cutting the cast in half for the 2020 live-streamed performance, the Ballet is bigger, “but not as large as in some years in the past,” she said.
With 81 annual performances, the Toledo Ballet holds the record for the longest consecutive running production of “The Nutcracker” in the nation. In 1941, only two years after its founding, the Ballet staged its first production of the show, complete with live orchestral accompaniment by the Friends of Music (later renamed the Toledo Symphony). Every year the production grew, as the musical score was permitted out of Russia around the time of World War II. The Toledo Ballet tradition engenders great pride, especially in 2020 when it was the only ballet company in the country to stage the production, as a virtual performance.
Adapting to changing mandates
The Ballet has been performing virtually and in the studio throughout the last year and has assembled two casts for The Nutcracker. This year’s production features some new choreography and costumes. “The angels opening the second act will have costumes that make them look more like they’re flying,” Mayer-Lang said.
Following the most current COVID- 19 recommendations, dancers will be masked backstage and unmasked onstage. “We’ll be able to return to the more demanding performances featuring advanced dancers since they’ll be unmasked,” Mayer-Lang said. “We’ll see all the beautiful faces of these dancers.” However, the youngest dancers (many as young as 7 years old) will be masked while on stage.
This year’s performance features Principal Dancers Melissa Gelfin De-Poli (who performed with the Toledo Ballet in 2019) and Rafael Quenedit Castro, both from the Cincinnati Ballet. “In addition, there will be 8 senior dancers this year,” Mayer-Lang said. “I kind of dread that it’s their last year, but it will be so exciting for them. Most have been with us since they were 5 years old.”
Mother Gingers return
Also returning in 2021 are feature performers in the role of fan favorite Mother Ginger character, a role that has traditionally been performed by men, because Mother Ginger’s enormous hoop skirt can weigh up to 100 pounds. During “her” appearance in the second act, eight little bon bon kids emerge from under the skirt, to the delight of the audience.
“I’m excited to bring the fun and liveliness to the role I’ve seen in others over the years,” said Adam Levine, Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey Director of the Toledo Museum of Art, who will be Mother Ginger for the performance at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11. “It’s an honor to be able to participate in a tradition so many community leaders have been involved with over the years.”
Other Mother Gingers for the 2021 performances include Photographer Robert Cummerow Thomas Winston, President and CEO of the Toledo- Lucas County Port Authority; Alex Gerken, Toledo City President, Senior Commercial Banker; and Steve Cavanaugh, Chief Financial Officer of ProMedica.
Get your tickets
The Nutcracker will be staged at the Stranahan Theatre Dec. 10 at 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Dec. 11 at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. and Dec. 12 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available for in-person or live streaming performances, and sales are currently trending to be the best year ever. Visit the Toledo Ballet website at toledoballet.com for more information.