Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 23rd 2014

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Christmas Takes The Stage

By Amanda Shaffer

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when tradition is most cherished, and beloved holiday-themed showings take center stage.

This year The Pensacola Little Theatre is taking on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” while at the Saenger Theatre, Ballet Pensacola is bringing back a favored classic, “The Nutcracker.”

From Film To Play
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is based on a short story by American author Philip Van Doren Stern that was made famous when Frank Capra produced and directed the original film in 1946.

Chances are you’ve seen the film at least once in your lifetime, if not multiple times. However, in the case you need a refresher, here are the basics. It starts with a man named George Bailey who asks the question, “What would life be like if I had never been born?” The rest of the story progresses through a dream seeking to answer this question.

“I think that George Bailey represents every man, and the fact that in some way, we all have impacted someone’s life without really knowing it,” said Director Jerry Ahillen.

“It is hard to make sure that the story comes through since it is so well-known by many,” he added.

Reviving A Classic
Meanwhile, Ballet Pensacola Artistic Director and Choreographer Richard Steinert faces similar difficulties with “The Nutcracker,” in that he wants to keep true to a story that people have come to know and love, but also keep it unique.

Steinert first attempt at choreographing the production was over 28 years ago, and he incorporates many traditional music pieces created by composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

“The hardest part is keeping the play fresh and lively. If it’s not fresh for the dancers, it won’t be for the audience,” said Steinert.

“The professional dancers are usually 25 years old, and have performed ‘The Nutcracker’ probably 22 of those years. I like to change it up a little each year.”

Before each year’s performance, Steinert reviews archived footage from past years to see what parts he prefers over others.

“The main characters usually stay the same,” he said. “That person has played that role for years and has over time, perfected the part.”

As far as supporting parts are concerned, Steinert shifts dancers around based on individual talents along with choreography considerations.

“The Nutcracker” brings to stage over 100 dancers, 40 of whom are full-time professionals, while the remaining 60 or so other parts are filled by Ballet Pensacola Academy students. The youngest dancers are merely six-years-old.

Kayla Bartlett, who is performing Clara for the third year in a row, was once one of those younger kids, dragged to ballet practice every day by her mom. Eventually, it was no longer a chore. Instead it became a passion, which turned into a profession.

“It took me actually performing on stage to figure out that I really liked ballet,” Bartlett said. “When I was about 16-years-old, I decided to pursue ballet as a career.”

Much like Bartlett’s relationship with ballet at a young age, it took “The Nutcracker” many years to catch on in America. Originally performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, “The Nutcracker” wasn’t popularized in the United States until the mid-20th century.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is a phenomenon,” Steinert said. “It was quite a flop. Tchaikovsky never thought of it as his best work.”

Today, it’s quite the opposite, as it’s become a  returning holiday favorite  and sell out event.

“There are always people at the door to get tickets who get turned away,” Steinert said. “We always sell out.”

Steinert said that it’s nice to have the demand. If there is enough interest, he is thinking about adding a fourth performance to next year’s schedule.

We predict there will be. After all, who doesn’t like a feel good story around the holidays?  “It doesn’t matter what your religion is,” said Steinert. “’The Nutcracker ‘ is a sweet ballet about a young woman with dreams of love, who is coming of age, without any of the harsh realities.”

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday Dec. 19, Friday, Dec. 20 and Saturday, Dec. 21 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22
WHERE:  400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $14—$30 (plus applicable fees)
DETAILS: pensacolasaenger.com or balletpensacola.com

THE NUTCRACKER
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 and Saturday, Dec. 21 and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22
WHERE:  118 S. Palafox
COST: $20—$32 (plus applicable fees)
DETAILS: pensacolalittletheatre.com