The Nutcracker, Grand Rapids Ballet

One of the highlights of my holiday experience last year was taking my daughter Clara to see the Grand Rapids Ballet performance of The Nutcracker. This year marks the 42nd anniversary of the lush and lavish performance, featuring live music from the Grand Rapids Symphony performing Tchaikovsky's original score, the art of professional dancers and choreography, a large cast of talented students, and even cameo roles from notable community members in one of Grand Rapids' most treasured holiday traditions.

This year I had the opportunity to ask Artistic Director Patricia Barker and Marketing and Design Manager Amber Stout to share some of the behind-the-scenes magic that makes the GRBC production of The Nutcracker so special, and learned some fascinating behind-the-scenes facts about the production.

The Preparation:

From the time rehearsals begin in September until opening night in mid-December, the dancers, crew, musicians, and other folk involved with launching the production work in high gear. During the last weeks leading up to the production, staff and crew load up two semi trucks full of props and sets, and spend a week testing sound, lights, and music with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

At the same time, the costumers keep busy fitting 81 students and 23 dancers with costumes. And the performers rehearse! There are at least two different dancers cast for each role, so the rehearsal schedule is intense and fast-paced. "Several of the company dancers have performed in The Nutcracker before, but a lot of them are performing different roles and still need to learn, rehearse and master the parts," explains Barker.

Nutcracker at Grand Rapids Ballet Company

Behind The Scenes:

Ever wondered how the set and prop wizards create the magical world of The Nutcracker at DeVos Performance Hall? Here are some things you might not have known:

  • The snow in The Nutcracker is actually a blend of shredded plastic and paper. "The variety of material allows the snow to have a fluttery effect that falls at different speeds," explains Stout. The snow is manually dropped by a pulley system back stage.
  • Local choirs such as the Girls Choral Academy, the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus, and school choirs from Big Rapids, Grant, Hudsonville, East Kentwood and other high schools sing during the snow scene of The Nutcracker from the upper box seats in the audience. The choirs also sing Christmas carols in the lobby before the performance and at intermission, says Stout.
  • The Russian dancers have an important second role: they stand underneath Mother Ginger's dress to move her back and forth across the stage!
  • Think you recognize Mother Ginger? That might be because local celebrities or donors traditionally play the role! There's no rehearsal time required, explains Barker - "Mother Ginger just has to be willing to wear theatrical make-up, know how to smile and wave, can shake their finger, hold a parasol, and have a good time." Previous Mother Ginger's include Todd Chance, Suzanne Geha, Mayor George Heartwell, Sheley Irwin, Emily Richett, Rachael Ruiz, and our own Austin Langlois, former Experience Grand Rapids intern!

Special Events:

In addition to the big production, there are several opportunities for audience members to enjoy a more enriching Nutcracker experience. After every matinee performance of The Nutcracker, audience members have the opportunity to view a Sugar Plum Parade on the stage. Children and adults can go backstage, view props and sets up close, meet some of the characters, take photos, and get autographs. Tickets are just $5 per person and can be purchased before the performance or at intermission, said Stout.

Clara's Nutcracker Party is an extremely popular event for children, featuring lunch, crafts, a reading of the Nutcracker story with Maranda from WOTV 4, photos with Clara or The Nutcracker, and a ticket to that afternoon's performance of The Nutcracker. This year's event is sold out already, so put a reminder on your calendar to order tickets early next year!

Get Your Tickets:

Performance dates for The Nutcracker at DeVos Performance Hall are as follows:

  • Friday, Dec 13, 2013 - 7:30pm
  • Saturday, Dec 14, 2013 - 2:00pm
  • Saturday, Dec 14, 2013 - 7:30pm
  • Sunday, Dec 15, 2013 - 2:00pm
  • Friday, Dec 20, 2013 - 7:30pm
  • Saturday, Dec 21, 2013 - 2:00pm
  • Saturday, Dec 21, 2013 - 7:30pm
  • Sunday, Dec 22, 2013 - 2:00pm

The show lasts 2 hours, including one 20-minute intermission. Tickets range in price from $20 - $54 and can be purchased via Ticketmaster or in person at the GRBC box office.