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

Madison Ballet dancers will also lead a series of Friday morning dance classes for children who are being housed at Fort McCoy.

MADISON, Wis. — In an effort to spread cheer this holiday season, a troupe of Madison Ballet dancers plans to put on four performances of “The Nutcracker” for Afghan refugees being housed at Fort McCoy this weekend.

Johnathan Solari, CEO of Madison Ballet, said the idea for the special performances — and the logistics needed to pull it off — came together within just over a month. What started with a phone call to a friend with the Department of Veteran Affairs quickly snowballed into plans for four performances over two days and a combined audience of 1,200 people.

“Within 24 hours, enough people had been contacted that I had received a call from, now a friend, at the time a stranger, at the Department of Homeland Security who said ‘I think we have a warehouse for you. I think we can do this,’” Solari said.

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From there, Solari got in contact with Madison Ballet’s production crew to figure out how they’d transform a military base warehouse into a venue fitting for sugar plums and fairies. In the month since, Solari and the rest of the team found a stage, got equipment and costumes shipped up to Fort McCoy and choreographed a whole new performance.

“To see it come together now has been really rewarding and fun,” Solari said.

Ahead of the shows, some of Madison Ballet’s members are planning to teach three dance classes Friday morning Solari said they’re expecting roughly 300 attendees for each of the four performances, with two scheduled for both Friday and Saturday. Each of the classes will be translated into the three languages spoken by refugees at the base so each child can get a personal experience.

Madison Ballet dancers planned to share their Thursday night dress rehearsal with the military and federal departments who helped coordinate the performances.

Solari said the efforts to bring “The Nutcracker” to life at Fort McCoy were inspired by what he saw on a trip to Greece during the start of Europe’s refugee crisis. While there to help provide aid, Solari said he very quickly realized how joyful kids seemed when they had the chance to play and enjoy themselves.

“Being able to bring some kind of art or craft to people who are in a really difficult situation — who have gone through an unimaginable amount of change and pain to start a new life — to be able to provide some kind of joy, some relief, some distraction, and to be able to say as an organization, as a community, ‘We’re here to welcome you,’ that was the initial impulse,” Solari said. “Everything since then has snowballed. I’ve really pleased with the amount of support and positive energy that’s come from it.”

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This year marks Madison Ballet’s 40th anniversary as an organization — a milestone Solari said was the perfect time to reinvent the group’s interpretation of the classic ballet, meaning this year’s performances, including those at Fort McCoy, will feature totally new choreography. While the performances at Fort McCoy will be limited to the second act (Solari cited difficult logistics needed for the first act), those in attendance will still get a “full spectacle” when they sit down for the show.

Madison Ballet’s 2021 performance of “The Nutcracker” is scheduled to run at the Overture Center from Dec. 17 through Dec. 26. Tickets and more information are available online.