Madison Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ returns to the stage

Madison Ballet is back with a beloved classic that’s engaged and delighted local audiences for 40 years.
clara receiving the nutcracker in the madison ballet performance
Courtesy of Darren Lee/Madison Ballet

In September, Madison Ballet scrambled to find an outdoor venue in which to stage its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a show already postponed from its 2020 performance and now hamstrung again by COVID-19’s delta variant surge.

It was an inauspicious start to the ballet’s 40th anniversary year. Fortunately, the troupe’s December production of “The Nutcracker Ballet” is returning to Overture Center for the Arts, accompanied by members of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. It’s a good thing, too, given the chill of Wisconsin’s winter weather and the importance of the show to the company and community.

“ ‘The Nutcracker’ is our moneymaker,” says Gretchen Bourg, Madison Ballet’s managing director, who says revenues from the holiday ballet make up about 48% of the company’s annual earnings. “The 2018 ‘Nutcracker’ was our highest-grossing production ever. We need it, and the community needs it.”

Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the holiday fantasia about young Clara and her Christmas dreams was not a success when first performed in 1892. But a 20-minute suite derived from the score kept the work alive, and by the 1960s it had gained tremendous popularity in North America, eventually leading to countless holiday productions of the full ballet. Madison Ballet has presented the show annually 40 times, says Bourg, who has been with the troupe for 15 years.

“I think ‘The Nutcracker’ has something for everyone,” Bourg says. “The story takes many turns, and you can interpret it many different ways.”

This year’s production features all new choreography by outgoing artistic director Sara Stewart Schumann, dancer Yu-Jhe Sun and ballet master Tom Mattingly. The production runs at Overture Hall from Dec. 17-26 and, as with past years, features community members dancing alongside Madison Ballet members.

“ ‘Nutcracker’ is an entry point for so many children and adults into the world of ballet and classical music, both for Madison Ballet and for ballet companies around the country,” Bourg says. “The very fact that it is such an iconic part of the holidays in the U.S. — even for families who don’t celebrate Christmas — makes it a wonderful way to bring our community in to see the magic of what we do.

“We always see an uptick in inquiries about our school immediately after the performances,” she adds.

Michael Muckian writes this arts and entertainment column monthly. Reach him at mmuckian@icloud.com.

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