Madison Ballet performs ‘The Nutcracker’ for Afghan refugees: ‘It was inspiring’

MADISON, Wis. — After being canceled last year due to the pandemic, a holiday classic returned this weekend to an unusual venue. The Madison Ballet performed “The Nutcracker” for the Afghan refugees staying at Fort McCoy.

The show will return to Madison for nine performances at the Overture Center starting Friday.

News 3 Now spoke with Madison Ballet’s CEO Jonathan Solari to learn more.

RELATED: ‘We’re here to welcome you’: Madison Ballet to perform ‘The Nutcracker’ for refugees at Fort McCoy

Tell us a little bit about your performances of “The Nutcracker” for the Afghan refugees this weekend. Where did this idea start?

Solari: “It was a beautiful weekend, we just got back yesterday. It was inspiring beyond what we could’ve anticipated. About a month and a half ago the idea came to be when I was reading that more than half of the people at the base, the 13,000 there at the time, were under 18, so children who needed some kind of distraction, some kind of joy in their lives and I thought, ‘What could we do,” and what we do best, of course, is dance and share the magic of our art form. Really quickly, pieces came together and we were welcomed by [Fort McCoy] and the Department of Homeland Security were all exceptional in making this happen. This weekend was incredible for us and the families who are waiting to start the next chapter of their lives.”

In addition to the performances, the kids got to learn some things about dance. Will you tell us about that aspect?

Solari: “Before each day of performances, we had classes for little ones with our dancers and it was just magic to watch them be able to move and express themselves and again, find a little bit of joy. One of my favorite moments actually came when on Saturday morning a group of about 20 kids were dancing in and out of a circle and actually some of the military men came in as well. The soldiers were dancing with the children and it was just a really beautiful moment.”

What was the reaction to the show?

Solari: “It was overwhelmingly positive. I think that the gesture of own, to know that there were people outside of that base who were ready to welcome them and share our culture and our art with them was one thing but to actually see the performance and see how much magic and technical theatrical ability was displayed for them. It was whistling and cheering and our dancers just embraced it all. It was really just an excellent exchange.”

Did you find that the art of this, the performance, did it transcend any language barriers that may exist?

Solari: “Of course. That’s the beauty of dance, right? There are three languages spoken by this community on that base, none of them spoken by our artists, but we got to share this weekend together and it really was a true cultural exchange that way. It transcended all barriers.”

How many shows did you perform?

Solari: “We did four performances of the second act of ‘The Nutcracker’. We would’ve liked to have brought the whole thing, but when you’re building a stage inside of a military warehouse you have to make some accommodations. But we are getting back to performing the full show starting this weekend, starting Friday, so join us at the Overture Center if you’re able.

How does it feel to be back this year, to be getting back to normal?

Solari: “It feels really good. It’s been a long time coming. We haven’t preformed this show … actually, this is new choreography for us this year, so we actually premiered it at Fort McCoy. [This is] the first time we had new choreography in nearly 20 years. For our dancers to be back on that Overture stage and to be with an orchestra and with an audience and share what they have devoted their life to … words can’t express it. It feels so good and we’re loading in right now. I got to spend this morning with our crews working hard putting all of the magic together.”