During the 45 years and more since "The Nutcracker" first came to America (in Willam Christensen's San Francisco Ballet version), it has found a home in almost every big city and many towns in the country, each of which puts its individual stamp on the Russian classic.
But when you find a thriving "Nutcracker" in Sanpete County, you know that penetration to the grass roots is complete.You can see the Central Utah Ballet and guest performers in "The Nutcracker" this weekend in North Sanpete High School's 630-seat auditorium in Mt. Pleasant - on Friday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 8, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Monday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $4.
"We added two performances because we sold out to the walls last year," said Vivian Kosan Bagnall, artistic director. "People were scalping tickets outside!"
Even in a county noted for its cultivation and culture, a "Nutcracker" in all its complexity does not come about by spontaneous generation. A charismatic leader is needed, and Bagnall is such a leader, with sound balletic training and contact over the years with other "Nutcrackers" in diverse locations.
Her ability to delegate and inspire has resulted in an amazing infrastructure of assistants, each of whom seems to comprehend what's expected of him or her to make the project succeed. Her assistant director is Joanne Titze, 16, who also dances the Sugar Plum Fairy.
"We held auditions on Oct. 12 and 13 and began to put the show together on Oct. 19 and 20," said stage manager Keri Rhodes. "This `Nutcracker' has magic."
Participants come from all over - from Provo to the north (four students from Brigham Young University), Spanish Fork and Payson; Price and Moab from the east; and as far south as Gunnison, Salina, Richfield and Loa, including several Snow College students.
In all, 200 men, women and children comprise four casts, with 100 in each run-through. Most of the major principals are cast singly, but there are four children's casts, and at least double casting of minor characters.
"The Grandfather and Grandmother are of believable age, and party children range in age from 3 to 17," said Bagnall. "Our dancers are all shapes, sizes and ages, and the little ones are not necessarily the best dancers, though they keep in step and don't mess up. I wanted this `Nutcracker' to look natural, like a real home Christmas party. Our maid, Nanette Watson, was a BYU ballroom dancer, and she choreographed the Grandfather dance."
When we visited last week for the first technical run-throughs, little girls bounced in the hallway, feeling pretty in ruffled party dresses with lace-trimmed pantaloons.
Their mothers sewed these clothes, including the spark-ling satin-and-sequined blue and white tutu and suit for the Snow Queen and Cavalier. "A local construction company bought cloth for Snow Kingdom costumes, and others have contributed the principals' costumes," said Bagnall. "We also provide the expensive toe shoes." Deseret Industries has figured prominently in providing the basis for some attractive Victorian-style boys' costumes, and the toy soldiers are dressed in the smallest high school band uniforms.
On stage, organized chaos reigned. The wrong backdrop had been sent from Michigan, and entrances and exits had to be restaged. Lighting personnel were attaching gels to lights, and last minute checks were being made.
"We have a tree that grows 35 feet, rigged by local engineers," Bagnall explained. "We have a snow machine, and our cast has to cut up the snow particles that fall from it. And Helen Christensen, a Sterling Scholar candidate, travels to rehearsals from Richfield, to complete her scholarship project in lighting."
Everyone grew quiet as Keri Rhodes read off the evening's drill: four complete run-throughs by 11 p.m. "There's a basketball game here tonight, and if anyone is found going out the back doors of the auditorium into the hall by the gym, he's out," she declared.
"I have always dreamed of having my own `Nutcracker,' and last year I decided the time was right," said Bagnall, who is energetic without being nervous. "I have danced in and helped stage several `Nutcrackers,' and made mental notes for my own as I went along.
"Before we came to Manti, we were in Billings, Mont., for eight years, where I had the Billings Civic Ballet school, 200 dancers. Ronn Guidi of the Oakland Ballet used to come up and help us stage `The Nutcracker,' and I got lots of good ideas from him, and from Moscelyne Larkin and Roman Jasinski, directors of the Tulsa Ballet, who also came there."
The party takes place in the Mayor's house, in Victorian period, though the program makes no mention of Nuremburg. Bagnall referred to notes that passed between Petipa and Tchaikovsky (the original choreographer and composer), and concluded it was suitable to have Clara wake up in her parlor following her dream of the Sugar Plum Kingdom and greet her family and friends.
"I like a magical Drosselmeyer, but not scary," she said. "Ours is weird but lovable. And I made my own toy nutcracker, because I wanted it to break in a certain way."
Bagnall opened her studio in Manti two years ago last fall with about 60 students. She now has about 120, from children to adults. She's proud that the high school allows physical education or humanities credit to her students,who learn dance history and culture along with their classes.
Bagnall was raised in the Panama Canal Zone, where her father was in the military. There she studied with Dorothy Hall, who had been an assistant to Fokine and a principal with the New York City Ballet. "I was trained under the syllabus for the Royal Academy of London, where I got my certification as a teacher, because I was too short for a dancing career," she said.
Her husband, Lewis Bagnall, an Ephraim native, had a career as national merchandise manager for K mart, which dictated a gypsy lifestyle for his family. He is now director of the Small Business Development Center, which covers six counties and is based at Snow College.
"When we began this `Nutcracker,' Lewis said, `Vivian, whatever you do, buy everything locally; let our businesses benefit," she said, "And when the townspeople saw what we were doing, they were eager to give support. So many businesses have taken ads in our program, each with its own special `Nutcracker' message and picture, sometimes of the merchants' own children."
Whole families have committed themselves to "The Nutcracker," like Dr. Robert Armstrong and his wife Beverly (executive secretary of the Ballet), who have five children in it, including Karen, 13, the Snow Queen.
"Last year Dr. Bob stage managed, and this year he wanted to dance in the party scene," said Bagnall. "We all hope he doesn't get called out to deliver a baby!" The Bagnalls' four children are all involved. Rawlin, 21, drew the program cover (and, in the midst of all these preparations, will depart for active duty on Monday as a lance corporal in the Marine Reserves and expert in chemical warfare). Erin, 20, is a seamstress; Jolene, 18, dances the Arabian variation and toy soldier; and Jared, 16, is the Nutcracker Prince. Vivian also dances a few solo bits.
She explained her success in getting a good contingent of young men on stage. "I'm sneaky," she laughed. "I asked in the schools for some boys `to lift my girls,' without suggesting that they dance, and they could wear sweat pants if they like. They don't like to wear tights, but they like to do the dancing."
Her wisdom was demonstrated by Paul Allred and Chris Cox, tall, strong young men who lifted the Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen with minimum fuss and maximum gymnastic talent. While not entirely kosher ballet technique, it's lifting without fear, which many a danseur would envy.
"Ballet is a beautiful art form, and we are educating the audiences, and stimulating the economy with our `Nutcracker,' " Bagnall concluded. "But the most fun in this is giving the kids a chance to experience the magic."