The Nutcracker heads into Shryock Auditorium Dec. 1

The Nutcracker heads into Shryock Auditorium Dec. 1

The Nutcracker heads into Shryock Auditorium Dec. 1
Leah Williams

A local production brings a holiday tradition to the Southern Illinois campus.

Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic “The Nutcracker” will be featured at Shryock Auditorium on Friday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday, December 2 at 2 p.m.

The shows include more than 50 local dancers from Willow Street Studios as well as performances from the Southern Illinois Children’s Choir and the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $8 for students.

Alexandra James, artistic director and choreographer, said work on parts of the show have been in practice since June with the majority of the rehearsals in full swing since September.

“It’s a very big production that takes many, many rehearsals and lots of time and dedication from the dancers, volunteers and the parents to allow us to bring it all together,” James said.

“The Nutcracker” chronicles the story of young Clara, who dreams that a Nutcracker Prince comes to life to battle with the Mouse King. Clara is introduced to a fantastic imaginary world with Sugar Plum Fairies, dancing snowflakes and dances from several different regions, including those from Spain, France, Arabia and Russia.

In addition to the local talent, the production includes beautiful costumes and scenery as well as professional dancers who are from across the Midwest. Those special guests include Kristin Young and Christopher Lingner from the Indianapolis Ballet, who will be dancing the Sugar Plum and her Cavalier. Peyton Cope from Southeast Missouri State University is taking on the Harlequin Doll and the Chinese Lead. Joseph Hutto from Chicago will be dancing the Columbine Doll and the Chinese Lead. Darryl Clark will be featured as Drosselmeyer and Patricia Krejcik is the Snow Queen for the production.

“Almost everything in this Nutcracker is new choreography and as an Artistic Director, it’s so rewarding and so much fun to choreograph the different parts and then watch the dancers make it their own and bring my vision to life!” James said. “My dancers have come a long way and I’m so very proud of all they’ve accomplished. I’ve spent the last 17 years performing in the Nutcracker so being the Artistic Director and choreographer was a big step and it has given a whole perspective and respect for the elements that go into making it a successful production.”

Co-producer Ed Benyas said the production is the final project of the semester for the orchestra. The SISO had performed an all-Russian orchestral program in October and November. The upcoming shows continue along the Russian theme.

“It has been five years since we’ve done ‘The Nutcracker’ on our series, so it is long overdue,” Benyas said. “We actually chose our season theme ‘The Russians Are Coming!’ in large part with ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet as a central focus.”

James said getting the opportunity to perform with the SISO has been especially thrilling.

“There is nothing quite as wonderful as dancing with an orchestra playing, and having the live music brings even more life and vibrance to the dancing,” she said. “There are lots of new costumes and props which also add to the magical aspect that the show has. My goal throughout the production has been to allow the dancers the chance to showcase their abilities and to share their love of dancing with the audience and for the audience to feel like they’ve become part of the story, not just watching from their seats.”

James said she believes the reason “The Nutcracker” has resonated with so many people is because it allows the audience to escape to a make-believe place.

“The Nutcracker’ is such an iconic ballet, people young and old love it, and the music is part of what makes it so loved,” she said. “Tchaikovsky did wonderful things with the music, it seems to touch the soul and you can’t help but be carried along and get lost in it. I want everyone to feel as though they’ve been swept away by the music and dancing to the Land of Sweets with Clara and her Prince.”

James credited the hard work of volunteers, many of whom are parents and

The one thing I’d like to say in addition is this, we would never have been able to put the production together without all of the help from our volunteers, many of whom are parents and grandparents of the dancers. These individuals put time and effort into making costumes and designing props for the production.

Benyas said the local production is a can’t miss performance.

“I’m also very excited to collaborate with Alexandra as Artistic Director and Choreographer, who brings her professional experiences dancing this ballet to our production,” he said. “So it is an entirely new approach for Carbondale. I’m sure audiences will love the beautiful costumes, fabulous professional dancers, and Tchaikovsky’s amazing music, all in our 2017 Nutcracker. Don’t miss it!”