"Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display - so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn't the holly, it isn't the snow. It isn't the …
"Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display - so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn't the holly, it isn't the snow. It isn't the tree, nor the firelight's glow. It's the warmth that comes to the hearts of men when the Christmas spirit returns again.'' (Author unknown)
If last year's sold-out performances were an indication, then the return this weekend of "A New Mexico Nutcracker" to the Taos Community Auditorium heralds a new generation of Taos holiday traditions that will surely lift your spirit and set your heart aglow.
"A New Mexico Nutcracker" is a production of Ballet Taos. Artistic Director Megan Yackovich explained, "(It) is our desire to give the audience an original, vibrant rendition of this holiday ballet classic."
This year's performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday (Dec. 14-15) at 7 p.m., and Sunday (Dec.16) at both 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets for the two-act ballet are $25, and $15 for those 18 years and under.
Like the time-honored Russian ballet upon which it is based, "'A New Mexico Nutcracker" features the iconic score of Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Yackovich's choreography is what drives the "powerful coming of age story" into a whole new realm, however.
"We have moved the calendar of the ballet forward from that of last year's production into 1930s Taos when, once again, Mabel Dodge and Tony Luhan gather friends at their home to celebrate Christmas Eve," said Yackovich. Some of the guests are historical: among them, Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams and his wife, Virginia. Others, such as Maria, the daughter of a chile farmer, are not. Yet all add to the enveloping story with which we are familiar.
Here's the synopsis in Yackovich's words:
"Act I opens at the Luhans' with a lively evening of dancing and gift-giving and ends with the children retiring to bed. Maria's journey of dreams and adventure is poised to begin.
"In Act II, Taos Mesa comes to life with a surreal battle between nature's desert creatures. Led by the Hawk Kachina and Coyote King, the creatures are given a choice of red chile, green chile or Christmas. Peace is finally restored as snow begins to fall on Taos Mountain (Pueblo Peak).
"With her Hawk Kachina by her side, Maria emerges as the lovely Butterfly Kachina and travels across the beautiful Northern New Mexico landscape. Snowflakes, hummingbirds, flamenco and Middle Eastern dancers, and waltzing flowers are just a few of the breathtaking scenes Maria experiences along the way."
Paintings from some of the most renowned living Taos artists will be projected as backdrops for Act II, all of which were selected from the collection of Robert Parsons' Gallery of the West and include those of Jerry Jordan, Richard Alan Nichols, Mary Dolph Wood, Julian Robles, William Hook and Don Ward.
The multimedia staging makes "A New Mexico Nutcracker" a remarkable juxtaposition of time and place, and a "celebration of the art, diverse culture and history that makes our community truly unique," Yackovich said.
Special guest artists Adam Overly-Black, Serena Smith and Kate Martin will reprise their roles as Ansel Adams, Virginia Adams and Mabel Dodge Luhan, respectively.
Tony Luhan will be played by Noah Yackovich; Maria, by Mina Waters; John, by Selena Waters; Georgia O'Keeffe, by Azure Rice; Martha Graham, by Laryssa Short; and Nicolai Fechin, by Derek Martinez.
Other leading roles will be performed by Sasha Kushner, Kelden Larsen, Uma Abad, Daisy Kirshbaum, Jamie Jensen, Bodhi Fogden, Derek Martinez, Natalya Quintanilla, Dascha Pellerin, Laryssa Short, Anna Hastings, Willow Bowman and Ronja Grundig.
And Yackovich will be on stage in Act I as Grandma Coyote and will dance in Act II's Chile Pepper Farmer's divertissement.
The production is the apex of a year that saw a number of exciting changes happening in Ballet Taos. Yackovich, who also serves as the school's director of classical dance, was particularly pleased to announce that Jefferson Baum will be joining the company as associate artistic director Jan. 1.
Baum, a world-class performer, teacher and choreographer, appeared frequently over this summer as a guest faculty member at Ballet Taos. His master classes included classical ballet and pointe techniques, emphasizing the discipline and fitness required of a dancer who strives towards a professional career.
"Jefferson brings a wealth of experience to the faculty, with a notable resume that includes his training at the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet, his principal work in renowned international companies and his time with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet," she said.
Ballet Taos had another stellar guest faculty member on staff this summer: Jock Soto. Now residing in Eagle Nest, the Gallup-born dancer also trained at SAB where he was selected for the corps de ballet of George Balenchine's company and whose subsequent award-winning career took him across stages around the world, including five PBS "Live from Lincoln Center" performances.
"As we're working towards the establishment of a professional company by the summer of 2019, having Jefferson come on board and having Jock as a guest master teacher is a linchpin in making that happen. Our faculty is the key to our success."
The summer also saw Ballet Taos beginning its first dedicated children's program, accepting students as young as four and focused upon foundational work that properly trains their bodies and strengthens their cores, legs and backs. "Classical ballet dancers are trained as athletes; they need strong bodies before we can put them in pointe shoes," Yackovich explained.
Project Relevé is another new component of the company's expanding repertory. Serving as the educational outreach program for Ballet Taos, Project Releve travels to different venues and gives audience members a behind-the-scenes look into the rigors of classical ballet excellence.
In fact, Yackovich said, Project Relevé will host a special event Friday (Dec. 14) from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Taos Community Auditorium. It's a sneak peak into the weekend's performances, with several selections from "A New Mexico Nutcracker" being performed by the cast members. Admission is free, and all are encouraged to attend.
Much of what makes Taos a special place is the way in which the community collaborates, and "A New Mexico Nutcracker" is no exception. "The success of our productions has to be laid at the feet of so many people outside of Ballet Taos," Yackovich aid. She noted the cooperation of the town, the Taos Center for the Arts and, particularly, the Taos Arts Council under whose umbrella Ballet Taos has grown.
"Credit must also be given to Heather Lynn Sparrow for the extraordinary photographs of our dancers, to stage director and light designer Chelsea Reidy, filmmaker Kate Martin, graphic designer Emily Wilde and our public relations team of Lesley Morgan, Anwar Kaelin and Jennifer Roderick," Yackovich concluded.
Whatever holiday you are celebrating and with whatever traditions you hold dear, nevertheless, a universal language signals the return of the season, and it is one of joy, hope and peace. "A New Mexico Nutcracker" is the epitome of those holiday ideals.
The Taos Community Auditorium is located at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Tickets may be purchased at the box office prior to each performance, or purchased in advance by visiting ballettaos.org.
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