Precious few nuts are cracking in Clark County this holiday season. Some dance companies were getting ready to record and stream video versions of “The Nutcracker,” the classic Christmas ballet, when the coronavirus pandemic started spiking again in Washington and all across the nation. Tighter restrictions on fitness and training facilities — including dance studios and schools — scuttled nearly all local Sugar Plum Fairy plans.
“We have lots of very sad kids,” said Chris Cannon of DanceWorks Performing Arts.
“We were going to do recordings and then premiere them on YouTube for the holidays, but when this new shut-down order came for us it was a shocker,” said Carla Kendall-Bray of sister studios Dance Fusion Northwest and Northwest Classical Ballet. “It’s so heartbreaking for these kids. I’m praying to the dance gods that studios can get through to the other side of this thing. Dance and arts are definitely among the endangered species.”
One local company did manage to pull off a “Nutcracker” video performance at breakneck speed. It was Nov. 14 when Scott Craig and the other leaders of Riverside Performing Arts learned that new restrictions on dancers would go into effect on Nov. 16. They had one day to decide whether to postpone or pull the plug on the “Nutcracker” they’d already been preparing.
Instead, Craig said, they decided to try for something crazy. Riverside compressed remaining weeks of preparations into a few hours, and filmed its entire “Nutcracker” production in one day.
“We felt confident we could do it safely,” Craig said. “We got on the phone with everyone — all the volunteers, all the kids, all the parents — and we said, ‘Let’s do this.’ We didn’t want to take away the opportunity that these dancers worked so hard for.”
The dancers leapt at the chance.
“I went right into panic mode when I found out we were filming Nutcracker so soon,” dancer Scarlett Reeder said. “I ran around trying to find everything, making sure I had clean tights, and re-sewed my pointe shoes. Then I remembered everyone else was feeling the same way as I was, and we were all going to get through it and produce something wonderful.”
Forty-eight performers were involved. Bobby P. Media of Hazel Dell recorded the production at Riverside’s black box studio in east Vancouver.
“We hit the ground running at 6 a.m. and filmed the entire day,” Craig said. Different groups of dancers came and went in order to maintain safe distances, he said, and everybody was masked at all times — even the dancers while performing. The shoot wrapped up just before midnight.
Riverside’s video “A Tale of the Nutcracker” starts with a swinging 1950s-style Christmas-party sequence featuring Duke Ellington’s “Jazzy Nutcracker” score before reverting to traditional looks and sounds, Craig said. Riverside’s Josh Murry-Hawkins directed and has a starring role.
The video, created in partnership with a new nonprofit started by Craig called Northwest Performing Arts Alliance, is already up and streaming through Saturday at northwestpaa.org. Ticket price is $19.99 for a 72-hour rental. Beginning Sunday, the performance is downloadable for $35, or $15 if you have already paid for the 72-hour stream.
“Everybody rose to the challenge,” Craig said. “It’s different, but this is a ‘Nutcracker’ we can be proud of.”