Celebrating 48 years of ‘The Nutcracker’ in Philadelphia

Since 1968, George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” has been a yearly tradition at the Pennsylvania Ballet. Set to the music of Tchaikovsky, audiences are swept away to the Land of Sweets and filled with the holiday spirit as they follow the adventures of Marie and her Prince. We chat with the Artistic Director, Angel Corella, about what to expect this season, making ballet accessible for kids with disabilities and how Philly compares to his hometown of Madrid.

What has made “The Nutcracker” so popular over the years?

I think it has to do with the music, the story, how involved it is with the celebration of dreams coming true. Especially in that period of the year — it is such a hopeful moment for all human beings. “The Nutcracker” is a representation of that. We’ve heard the music so much in so many different places — shopping malls and on the radio. Everywhere. It is so familiar that it has become a tradition. It also represents being able to share the holiday with your family — with beautiful music and beautiful dancing. We actually are doing thirty one performances this year and I am planning to go to every single one of them.

Is there anything unique we can look forward to this season?

We always bring something new even with a show that has been done before. Every dancer has a different approach and although they are the same steps, the ballet could look completely different depending on who is dancing it. But, we are going to continue the tradition of George Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” and every year just the dancing improves. Dancers can jump higher and they can hold positions longer — they can turn multiple turns…

What inspires your work?
I was really lucky to have danced with American Ballet Theatre for almost 20 years. At the same time, I guested with every company around the world like the Royal Ballet in London or Australian Ballet. I’ve seen all of these companies, experienced all of these great choreographers and how the audience reacted.

The PA Ballet is doing a special Sensory Friendly Performance for kids with disabilities and their families. Want to talk about that?

A lot of parents come to us and say that they are afraid to bring in their kids because they might make noise. So, I think that this initiative is going to be great for parents that have someone with some kind of disability to be able to feel that the whole family can come to the theatre and have a great time. My cousin has a baby with autism and she was always so afraid of bringing him to the ballet to see me dance because she thought he would make a lot of noise. And, I said: “It’s okay. I think everyone around will understand and if they don’t, that’s okay too.”

Did he finally get to see you dance?

He was actually very enthusiastic about the whole thing and then at the end he started screaming and he was just having a great time. He came backstage, gave me a huge hug and wouldn’t let go. I mean it was a great experience. [For the Sensory Friendly Performance], the dancers will be warned, “If you hear any noise or anything like that it is okay.” And I think that The Nutcracker is a great way to introduce them to the ballet world because there aren’t any explosions or anything that will scare them.

You’re from Madrid. How do you like Philadelphia?
I love Philadelphia. It’s a great city. It is very European looking. I think it is one of the closest cities that you can feel [like you’re in Europe]. Everything is in your reach and you have some of the greatest museums, orchestras and now some of the greatest ballet companies in the world. It’s a great treat.

<p>Artistic Director of the PA Ballet and world-renowned dancer Angel Corella

“The Nutcracker” will be performed from Dec. 9 through Dec. 31 at the Academy of Music. The Sensory Friendly Performance, presented in conjunction with Art Reach, will take place on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 11 a.m.

This article is part of Metro’s Winter Arts Guide, on newsstands in Boston, Philly and New York on Friday, Nov. 18.

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