Tulsa Ballet's 'Nutcracker' gets new twist
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, December 02, 2012
12/02/12 at 4:08 AM
The last thing Bruce Wells has to worry about whenever he's asked to revise an existing ballet is the original choreographer.
"That's because either that person is no longer with the company, or is no longer walking the earth," Wells said, laughing.
So when Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini first approached Wells about revising the first act of the company's "The Nutcracker," Wells thought all he would do is offer a few suggestions.
"I thought Marcello was just asking for my opinion about the ballet," said Wells, whose career began with New York City Ballet, included time as principal dancer and resident choreographer for Boston Ballet and who now serves on the faculty of the Pacific Northwest Ballet School.
"I watched the DVD Marcello sent me and made a whole lot of notes," Wells said. "I did a full-out script, because when you do a story ballet, you have to be dead-on about everything. Each moment has to lead up to and into the next."
Wells sent all his suggestions to Tulsa, and thought that would be the end of it. Then Angelini called to ask if Wells would come and put all those ideas into motion.
"So this is the first time I've ever had the original choreographer of a ballet watching over my shoulder as I change things," Wells said. "Fortunately, Marcello has been very open about the whole thing."
Tulsa Ballet's current production of "The Nutcracker," which Angelini choreographed, debuted in 2003. In place of the traditional story that begins with a family Christmas party and evolved into a dream-like journey to a "Kingdom of Sweets," Angelini fashioned a slightly more mature story, set in 1920s Paris, that moves from the studios of the Paris Opera to the gardens of the Palace at Versailles.
However, Angelini said, "I was never really satisfied with the opening scene set in the dance studio. We wanted to have a scene that would accommodate a wider range of ages of young dancers, and we wanted to get as many young dancers on stage as we could. But it seemed almost to be a separate scene."
Angelini approached Wells because, "when it comes to creating story ballets for young dancers, there's no one better than Bruce."
What Wells has come up with is a return to the basics.
"Whenever you're talking about 'Nutcracker,'" Wells said, "you have to go back to the Balanchine version. No one had a deeper and more complete understanding of Tchaikovsky and his music than Balanchine."
That means the opening of Tulsa Ballet's "The Nutcracker" is a family Christmas party. The character of Drosselmeyer is now the person responsible for providing the evening's entertainment - in this case, a portable production of "The Nutcracker," with the battle between the title toy and the evil Mouse King.
"All the children get presents," Wells said. "And some of the presents they receive are large dolls that are wearing the costumes that dancers will be wearing in the second act.
"It's just another way to tie the whole story together," he said. "Marie, our main character, watches 'The Nutcracker,' she sees all these different dolls in these costumes, and it all comes alive when she falls asleep and starts dreaming."
Wells' changes to the ballet also include the return of one of the most popular characters from the old version of "The Nutcracker" - Mother Ginger, whose voluminous skirts disgorge all sizes of clowns.
"The thing about Mother Ginger," Wells said, "is that it's based on a kind of candy box. It was in the shape of a dress, and when it was opened the candy was supposed to rise out of it."
Angelini said that one of the more popular elements of the dance studio scene - the comic romance between the no-nonsense Ballet Mistress and the tipsy Pianist - has been transferred to new characters, a Head Maid and a Butler.
Wells said he's been impressed with how quickly the Tulsa Ballet dancers have taken to all the changes.
"Their concentration has been amazing, because I tend to work at light-speed, and they've had a lot to learn in a very short time. But they seem to pick it right up. And I've had a ball working with them."
When: 2 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 9, 16,
23; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 15 and 22.
Where: Chapman Music Hall, Tulsa
PAC, 101 E. Third St.
Tickets: $20-$86. 918-596-7111,
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Choreographer Bruce Wells works with dancers Courtney Skalnik, 12 (second from left), who portrays Marie, and Alex Christian, who portrays her mother, while rehearsing for Tulsa Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker." Wells has created new choreography for Tulsa Ballet's version that will return it to a more traditional look. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World