When Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute came to Utah over the summer, he knew he had to think a bit about December. That's the month when the company dived headfirst into the holiday production of "The Nutcracker."
Sklute knew how much the production meant to Utah, and to the rest of the country, for that matter. Willam F. Christensen's "The Nutcracker" was the first full-length ballet ever produced in the United States. And it has become a tradition for families since its inception some 53 years ago.
So, Sklute knew this was a ballet that needed to be preserved. And to do so, he had help.
One being Bene Arnold, a former member of Ballet West precursor Utah Civic Ballet, and a close friend of the late Christensen, affectionately known throughout his life as Mr. C.
"Bene approached me and talked to me this past summer about 'The Nutcracker,'" said Sklute during an interview in his Capitol Theatre office. "We talked about bringing back an older version of Mr. C's production. I had noticed that in Act 2 there weren't many places where the men could be showcased. So I asked her about it.
"Bene told me that Mr. C had used men in the Spanish variation," said Sklute. "But it was taken out because he liked to tinker with his works. He was always changing things around and making adjustments to keep the ballet fresh.
"I asked her if there was a possibility to bring back the male role in the Spanish segment and she was up to the idea."
So Arnold, Ballet West ballet master and mistress, Bruce Caldwell and Pamela Robinson-Harris, had many meetings with Sklute about readjusting "The Nutcracker" for this season.
"I have reams of notes from our meetings," said Sklute. "We were and still are very dedicated to make sure the ballet is Mr. C's."
Arnold remembers those meetings.
"When Adam asked me what my idea was about 'The Nutcracker,' I told him that over the years the various artistic directors have taken things out of the production," said Arnold during a phone call from her home in St. George. "Little by little Bill's signature things have been smoothed over. He was a wonderful dancer, but he was also a trained vaudeville performer. And he added those kinds of touches to the ballet.
"But those touches have been left out for some reason or another. So we talked about putting some stuff back in. The male role in the Spanish variation was one of those things we decided to put back.
"You see, it's important that we keep Bill's vision in 'The Nutcracker,'" Arnold said. "And there are still many possibilities to make sure it remains his vision."
Sklute said since the ballet has changed throughout the years, there's a "treasure trove" of ideas that can be brought back.
"For example, this year, we've re-created part of the Sugar Plum pas de deux," he said. "Over the years, a section of the Cavalier's dance was dropped. It wasn't a significant drop when it came to time it was only about a minute's worth of music and movements. But those movements were significant from a dancer's point of view. It made the pas de deux a bit more challenging. So, we put it back in."
There are a few more little tweaks here and there this year, but Sklute and Arnold said the significant parts will be noticed. And it will, hopefully, make "The Nutcracker" more enjoyable this year.
"I remember the first time I saw a "Nutcracker,'" said Sklute. "It was actually Mr. C's brother Lew's version at the San Francisco Ballet. And, as many people know, Mr. C's version was the first one performed at San Francisco, so Lew's version was more or less based on it. But I remember my parents taking me to the ballet every year. And, like Mr. C, Lew did change things from year to year. Those changes still resonate today. I remember going one year and then going the next year, wondering what will be different. It kept it exciting for me, even though I was only 6 or 7 years old."What I want to do for 'The Nutcracker' is make it exciting for audiences again. I mean, the dancers are up to it. In actuality, we're coming off the 'The Three Musketeers' performances, and we have only a week to pull together 'The Nutcracker,' including the changes. And I've seen the dancers rise to the occasion. They are the best."
If you go . . .
What: "The Nutcracker," Ballet West
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South
When: Friday through Dec. 29, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Dec. 24, noon
How much: $17-$65
Phone: 355-2787, 888-451-2787