Known for entertaining The Grand Theatre’s audiences year after year, holiday ballets are pivoting to virtual formats this season. In the midst of the lingering pandemic, the Cartersville City Ballet and Steps of Faith Dance Studio are flexing their artistry skills to place a fresh perspective on their beloved dances.
“Two of our most popular rental events every year are the two ballets performed each December,” said Kristy Montgomery, The Grand’s program director. “Both dance companies work exceptionally hard to provide quality seasonal performances that highlight our local talent, and we definitely miss not having the full-scale performances on our stage this year. Though we can’t have them perform like they usually do, I’m so pleased that they’ve both found a way to still put their shows together.”
In December, Cartersville City Ballet and Steps of Faith Dance Studio will perform virtual versions of “The Nutcracker” and “The Nativity,” respectively. While the latter was entirely filmed at The Grand Theatre, the “Cartersville Hometown Nutcracker” traveled across Bartow, enabling a bevy of locations to serve as the ballet’s backdrop.
“I really am looking forward to seeing their performances,” Montgomery said. “‘The Nutcracker’ includes a ton of local venues and locations, including The Grand Theatre, and ‘The Nativity Ballet’ is always incredibly beautiful.
“It’s both remarkable and encouraging to see how our local organizations continue to provide the arts in their own unique ways. I’m honored to know and work with the staff of both dance companies, and I congratulate them on their ingenuity and creativity.”
‘Cartersville Hometown Nutcracker’
Striving to deliver a “holiday present for our beautiful hometown of Cartersville,” Terri Kayser embraced the opportunity to turn the “Nutcracker” into a movie this year. Presented in Cartersville since in the late 1980s, the ballet chronicles the magical journey of Clara after she receives a Nutcracker from her Uncle Drosselmeyer.
“The idea of creating our own ‘Nutcracker’ movie began as a dream in July and became a reality in August when rehearsals began,” said Kayser, artistic director of the Cartersville City Ballet. “At first, the idea of making a film was very scary. So many elements had to be decided before rehearsals could begin — social distancing, dancing while wearing a mask, who would film the ballet, who would narrate, writing the narration, creating choreography on pointe for outdoors, how many pairs of pointe shoes would each dancer need considering they would be dancing in the grass and on dirt, and the list goes on.
“Let’s just say each step of the way was a learning experience. Once the decision was made to create a film, we began brainstorming locations. We wanted this to be a special experience for those in the Cartersville/Bartow area but also for someone not familiar with the locations.”
Clara’s adventures were filmed at various Bartow sites, some of which include Barnsley Resort, The Grand Theatre, Rose Lawn Museum and Cartersville’s Train Depot.
“Ellen Archer, executive director of the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau, was instrumental in helping us to make connections with those needed in different locations,” Kayser said. “Barnsley Resort graciously donated four different locations for us to film.
“Barnsley was our first filming location,” she said, adding Scott Britt served as the ballet’s videographer. “We spent a day and half filming ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes,’ Dew Drop and Fairies, ‘Tea from China’ and ‘Waltz of the Flowers.’ Karen [Grantham] and I had goosebumps and honestly cried when we witnessed the first moments of filming ‘Waltz of the Flowers.’ There are no words to describe the feeling of that first moment when you see a dream become a reality.”
With CCB’s and the “Nutcracker’s” ties to downtown, Kayser shared it was a “must” to showcase the heart of Cartersville with their new production.
“Teresah Thompson of Swheat Market and Mary Ann Henry of the Cartersville Artist in You both donated their spaces for two of the dances in Act II,” she said. “The CCB’s ‘Nutcracker’ movie would not be complete without dancing on the stage at The Grand Theatre. The grand pas de deux and Dew Drop Fairy’s variation as well as other dances were filmed there and woven into the film.
“And of course the Depot and the historic Coca-Cola sign located on the Young Brothers Pharmacy outside wall had to be included in our locations to film. As all know doing anything outside in downtown Cartersville can be tricky because of the many, many trains that pass through. And so during our filming of Candy Canes at the Coca-Cola sign, a long pause had to take place for the train to pass. I think we left the train conductor to ponder on why so there were so many dancing Candy Canes by the track.”
Along with Kerrie Robinson as Drosselmeyer, the ballet’s key performers will include Alex Dumas as Clara, Kevin Barnhart as Nutcracker Prince, Victoria Grantham as Sugar Plum Fairy, Grace Ries as Dew Drop Fairy, Caroline Morrison as Snow Queen and Anna Grace Trammell as Mouse Queen. In the opening party scene, Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini and his wife, Anthia, will portray Clara’s parents and Archer will play her grandmother.
“Each and every time we present ‘The Nutcracker,’ I am swept away with Clara in her magical adventure from the moment the curtain opens till the moment it closes at the end of the ballet,” Kayser said. “The music, written by Tchaikovsky, is beautiful. I will never tire of listening to it. This year, we have been treated to the joy ‘Nutcracker’ brings in a different manner.
“Since the beginning of October when we began filming at Barnsley Resort, the Christmas spirit has been among us. After each filming, we, the directors, get a sneak peak into another of Clara’s adventures by being a part of the editing process. The joy and excitement of filming the ballet in so many beautiful locations has brought a new excitement to the performers, and I believe it will do the same for the audience. The process reminds me in a time of such uncertainty of the happiness everyone deserves.”
Tickets for the virtual “Cartersville Hometown Nutcracker” will be available on www.cartersvilleschoolofballet.com. CCB is in the process of pinpointing the December viewing dates.
Using The Grand Theatre once again as its backdrop, “The Nativity” will continue to spread the Gospel through dance.
“It was absolutely amazing to see it come together,” said Julie Reeves, director of Steps of Faith Dance Studio. “My staff and dancers are superstars. To take something so iconic and close to our heart and remake it this way for a whole world to see took weeks of planning and many hours of reimagining how an audience might see it from a filming point of view.
“My hope is that so many more people are able to see the ballet who couldn’t see it in person. By making this available online, we are able to show the message of hope through the arts, bringing both amazing artistry to the season and reminding the world why we celebrate Christmas.”
Initially written in 2002, “The Nativity” was reworked in 2016, showcasing a biblical show with updated music.
“‘The Nativity’ was first produced in 2003 as a one-hour ballet,” Reeves said. “Over the years, it has grown to a full-length ballet depicting the wide ranging views of many characters in the Nativity story. Biblically based, we have sought to bring the birth of Jesus to life through dance and music.
“As always, we want anyone watching to have a fresh encounter with the message of Jesus and who He is. We always pray it changes the way they may look at the season and at how much God loves them.”
Encompassing more than 50 dancers from Steps of Faith’s studio and guest artists, the ballet will be led by Caroline Stone and Grace Avera as Mary/Holy Spirit/Angel Gabriel; SOF alumnus Milx Barbosa as Joseph; Gabrielle Weir as Elizabeth; Aysia Carr and Gabrielle Weir as Mary’s Sister; Audrey Norcross and MacKenzie Miller as Lead Shepherd; Alex Fasselt as Innkeeper; Milea Bonner and Zella Shampine as Innkeeper’s Daughter; Vini Febus as Adult Jesus; Ethan Alexandersen as Little Boy Jesus; Jeremy Weir as Simeon; Sophie Boyers and Isabelle Coffin as Anna; and Jeff Tindall as Herod.
“We had all hoped that by August life would be back to normal,” said Steps of Faith’s missions/production director, Christina Weinzetl, who also serves as the ballet’s choreographer, writer and production director. “But as the time came, we knew things would be different from the years prior.
“It is very difficult to have to imagine not performing in front of a live audience and our students had already been through so much change and loss during the spring semester. That is why we made it our goal to make this experience as familiar as possible to what they know, but also unique in its nature of how we were having to go about performing the show.”
Grateful for the opportunity to film at The Grand Theatre, Theresa Shampine — Steps of Faith’s ballet mistress — noted performing without an audience presented various challenges.
“The usual intangible relationship between the dancer and her audience, where the energy is given and received — and those sought-after moments when the dancer’s virtuosity melds with the momentum of the choreography, the crescendo of the music and the palpable energy of the audience’s emotional response — was replaced with a mostly blank canvas staring back at them,” she said. “In place of immediate, thunderous applause, our young dancers had to perceive the bigger impact of their performances — that the moments and audiences would be forthcoming.
“That the gift of virtual performing was giving their performances to a worldwide audience that would far exceed the 500-person crowd they were accustomed to dancing for. Teaching our young dancers to embrace this while continuing to train tirelessly with blood, sweat and tears will mold them into resilient artists with a unique set of performance skills in the years to come.”
Starting at 7 p.m., “The Nativity” will premiere at no charge Dec. 18 and 19. With the virtual platform still being decided, updates will be provided on Steps of Faith’s website, www.steps-of-faith.com, and Facebook page.
“God always provides beauty for ashes, and despite our not being able to bring this ballet to our community the normal way, we are able to bring this ballet to a worldwide audience, for both local and faraway audiences, free of charge,” Reeves said. “We were able to do that through the abundant generosity of our families and our community.
“Our families raised over $20,000 to be able to pay for all our expenses to be able to film this show. After the premiere dates, we will set up a small paywall fee, in order to have anyone watch the ballet on demand. This will allow us to continue to support our company and our ministries.”