Since the Carolina Ballet began presenting “The Nutcracker” in 2001, the performances have, for the most part, stayed the same.
But the ballet’s Artistic Director Robert Weiss wanted to make the show more exciting, especially for those audience members who see the show every year.
That’s where Las Vegas magician Rick Thomas came in.
“‘The Nutcracker’ has always begged for magic,” Thomas said.
Carolina Performing Arts is presenting the world premiere of Thomas’ updated “Nutcracker” this weekend at Memorial Hall.
Traditionally, the character Drosselmeyer, a toy maker and the godfather of Clara, performs simple parlor tricks.
But this isn’t a traditional production.
Though the choreography and story will be familiar to veteran viewers, there will be some surprises in the production.
Thomas designed new, more complicated tricks and taught them to the dancers.
Showing outsiders his secrets, he said, was the biggest challenge.
“It aches my heart,” he said.
Marin Boieru, a ballet master with the Carolina Ballet, is one of two dancers to play Drosselmeyer.
He said that though the magic is impressive, he is not completely at ease with it.
“I think of it as a new challenge,” he said.
“It makes me a little nervous at the same time because it’s new for me.”
Boieru has performed as Drosselmeyer before.
But he said combining the character with the magic is a new hurdle.
“Now I’m like, so concentrating on the magic, I don’t want to miss anything,” he said.
Thomas said witnessing the dancers master his magic is the most rewarding part.
“It’s like a father watching his children do something great.”
The new magic changes only the choreography surrounding it. Lisa Jones, Carolina Ballet’s executive director, said the illusions are not overpowering and do not detract from the story.
“They’re completely embedded with the music and dance of the first act,” she said.
The illusions did, however, require a change in scenery. All except one set have been redesigned and recreated by Jeff Jones, who designed the original sets in 2001.
Jones said he had to ensure the set pieces for each illusion did not look jarring on the stage to audiences.
He said the black box usually seen in magic shows — used to make people disappear — would not blend in successfully on the stage.
“That would look really weird in a Victorian sitting room,” he said.
Now, music boxes and presents camouflage the technicalities of the illusion.
The redesign was also part of Weiss’ plan to rejuvenate the performance.
He’s also adding some familiar “celebrity” faces to the show.
Several WRAL-TV reporters, Gov. Bev Perdue’s husband, Bob Eaves, and Durham Mayor William Bell will come out of a large book throughout the 20 performances across the Triangle area.
In addition, Thomas will grace the stage during Saturday and Sunday’s matinees.
Ellen James, marketing manager for the executive office of the arts, said students typically make up the majority of “The Nutcracker” audiences at Memorial Hall.
As of Wednesday evening, about 1,200 of 1,434 tickets had been purchased for the Saturday matinee, James said.
Of those, 1,000 were student tickets.
Katey Mote, a senior and house manager for Memorial Hall, said she thinks the name recognition of “The Nutcracker” makes the show more appealing for students than other performances at Carolina Performing Arts.
“They’re all so fantastic, but sometimes students might not know what it is exactly unless they recognize the name,” she said.
James said “The Nutcracker” is the only performance to come every year since Carolina Performing Arts began seven years ago.
“It truly is one of our traditions.”
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