A Pueblo holiday tradition continues with ‘Nutcracker, The Ballet’

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PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) — The Nutcracker Ballet, put on by the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center, is a holiday tradition in Pueblo, and even with the COVID-19 pandemic, the show must go on.

Because of the pandemic, there were no live performances this year, but rather than cancel the ballet altogether, the arts center came up with a creative and safe solution.

“I think this was the brainchild of our CEO Jim Richerson, who said ‘Let’s just film this and then give it to the community as a gift this year,’” said Artistic Director for the School of Dance Nanine Wainwright

Wainwright said originally they had hoped for the possibility of performing for a small audience, but after realizing that wasn’t an option, filming was the next best thing. 

After the decision to make a movie was made, Wainwright began searching for a production company and ultimately decided on the Pueblo-based Media Center. The funding for the film came from corporate, foundation, and individual sponsors through the arts center. They also hosted a pledge drive, where friends and relatives of the students were able to donate money.

The next challenge came in figuring out how to safely perform the ballet. 

“The cast is usually quite large. Usually, we have 100 or more people in the cast of ‘The Nutcracker’ and obviously this year that just wasn’t going to be possible,” said Wainright. “This year we had a diminished cast of 60 people, and even then there’s no way we could have all those people in the building at the same time.”

Thanks to the power of post-production, they were able to shoot the ballet scene-for-scene with individual performers, allowing for a safer environment for dancers and crew. 

Spanish – Gabrielle Bilger and Chloe Foust dancing, seated are Gabriella Harberts and Logan Stanifer, courtesy of Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center

Wainwright said students learned two versions of the ballet. One group would perform contact-less, which meant no lifts, duets, or duels. Another group, with consent from dancers and parents, included contact but still adhered to strict COVID-19 guidelines. 

Both groups did wear masks. The arts center managed to find masks to match the costumes and commissioned other custom masks. 

“It’s a sign of the times, and in a way, it was a comfort to me. We filmed this at a time when COVID cases were going up astronomically in Colorado and to have our dancers protected as much as possible, I hope the audience will understand.”

Gabriella Harberts as Clara, Connor Foust as Drosselmeyer, courtesy of Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center

The ballet was actually filmed in two days in November, right before the State moved Pueblo County to Level Red on the COVID-19 dial. The filming was moved up before the announcement came down from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

Despite the obstacles this year, Wainwright said the students have taken the challenges in stride.  

“Every minute since we’ve been back in July has been difficult for them,” said Wainwright. “Still, everyone came with focused attitudes towards their classes, their rehearsals, and showed great dedication in making this film work.”

While the performance wasn’t what everyone planned earlier this year, the dancers were thankful for the opportunity to perform in some way.

“I was really happy, it was not what we expected from previous years. But I thought it was nice that we get a professional video so that way when I’m older I can still look back at it and remember how I used to dance,” said Emma Rafferty, who was the Sugar Plum Fairy and in the flower choirs this year. “I’m glad we got to at least carry on ‘The Nutcracker’ tradition.”

Rafferty is a senior at Pueblo Centennial High School, with hopes of becoming a nurse one day. She told KRDO she’s been dancing with the arts center for the past 14 years. Rafferty said she saw “The Nutcracker” when she was three and was mesmerized by the Sugar Plum Fairy dance, and since then has been working towards that performance. 

Emma Rafferty as Sugarplum Fairy, courtesy of Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center

As a dancer, she said the audience gives an extra boost to performers when they’re on stage working through a grueling number. Even with empty seats this year, Rafferty managed to still find a way to connect with the audience. She told KRDO she made sure to make eye contact with the camera, the same way she would during a live performance. 

She also acknowledged that this year was a little bittersweet for her and the other graduating seniors.

“We were all really sad. It’s kind of like a senior spotlight I guess, there are things we missed out on like the point shoe signing. Every year we sign point shoes and give to kids,” she said. “It was just hard knowing our last ‘Nutcracker’ as a student wasn’t really how it used to be.”

With COVID-19 restrictions, dancers weren’t able to watch each other during rehearsals and they also weren’t able to get ready together in dressing rooms. 

Still, Rafferty found the motivation to get through filming, echoing the idea of this performance being a gift to the community. 

Emma Rafferty as Sugarplum Fairy, courtesy of Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center

“I was really just thinking about how many people this video will hopefully reach versus people that can’t come to the studio and watch the actual performance. So I’m hoping a lot more people will be able to watch ‘The Nutcracker’ this year,” said Rafferty. “I just really do appreciate everyone that has helped us, including the audience. A lot of generous people have helped donate this year and I really appreciate everyone’s help.”

If you’re interested in watching the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center’s performance of “The Nutcracker” you can watch that through their website. You have the option of watching the contact-less performance or the normal one. There is also a video available for interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie.  

Coronavirus / Entertainment / Health / Holidays / Lifestyle / Local News / Pueblo

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