'Nutcracker' reunites local ballet, symphony

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

Every year, “The Nutcracker” inspires dazzling displays of dance, music and storytelling. The Virginia Regional Ballet and Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra will reunite Saturday and Sunday for another rendition of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall.

“It’s a fairy tale within a real story, which I think everyone can relate to,” said Adelle Carpenter, the ballet’s studio director. “It’s a time-honored tradition.”

The performance marks the second consecutive year in which the ballet school is performing alongside live music performed by the WSO. It was a tradition forced into hiatus in 2007 due to the costs associated with such a production. But thanks to fundraising efforts and donors, it’s more alive than ever.

“Music and dance just complement one another on their own, and their level of professionalism is just exquisite,” Carpenter said.

Carolyn Keurajian, the WSO’s executive director, said the audience can feel the difference when live music is incorporated.

“It just makes the piece come alive,” she said. “There’s nothing like a professional orchestra to make the hall feel alive. It’s just a much more vibrant experience.”

Heidi Robitshek, the school’s artistic director, lauded WSO conductor Janna Hymes’ abilities.

“It just clicked,” she said. “It’s wonderful to dance with their live music.”

To mix things up this year, Robitshek added other works to complement Tchaikovsky’s original lineup, including Benjamin Britten’s “Tirolese” and “Sträusschen” by Johann Strauss.

“That’s really, really fun,” said Hymes, who is such a big fan of “The Nutcracker” that she once conducted 18 performances of it in a single year. “I never, ever tire of it. It is timeless. I think the music is glorious.”

She added that she admired Robitshek’s direction of the dancers.

“That choreography is hers and it’s special,” Hymes said.

The performance features 65 dancers from the school, ranging in age from 6-18. Many of the dancers grow up with the company, and some of this year’s seniors earned major roles in “The Nutcracker.”

“The little ones look up to them and it teaches them that level of commitment,” Carpenter said. “I think that it adds more for the audience, seeing the progress of the dancers here in our school and just highlighting not only their talent, but the talent of our school.”

Guest artists from Fort Wayne Ballet also will join them onstage.

“It’s different every year according to the ability of the dancers,” Robitshek said. “I’m very particular. It’s always a crowd pleaser.”

Last year’s performances sold out, and the creative team hopes audience will respond just as positively when they take the stage Saturday and Sunday in advance of Christmas.

“The story is the same,” Hymes said. “But we just want them to realize that I think we’re doing great art in Williamsburg, and it’s just a beautiful production and it makes them feel good.”

Want to go?

“The Nutracker” dances at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 7 p.m. Saturday at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall. Tickets start at $23, available at dancevrb.com/nutcracker.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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