The Nutcracker - Image Courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

The Nutcracker Artwork
Image courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

The Grand Rapids Ballet production of The Nutcracker is a tradition for many in and around West Michigan during the holiday season. This year, the classic gets a fresh take with none other than famed children's book author and East Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg (author of The Polar Express, among many others) involved in the production along with Tony Award-winning designer Eugene Lee. Val Caniparoli, who has worked with more than 35 ballet, opera and theaters, will choreograph.

The Nutcracker will be the largest production Grand Rapids Ballet has put on stage. But just how did this re-imagination come together?

Patricia Barker, Artistic Director for Grand Rapids Ballet, worked with Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak in the Pacific Northwest Ballet production of The Nutcracker. This unique collaboration became a holiday tradition in the Seattle Area and Patricia has looked forward to establishing a similar tradition in Grand Rapids since her arrival in 2010.

"Not only was Maurice Sendak a big influence in my life, he was a big influence in Chris' life," said Barker.

Van Allsburg's wife Lisa brought home a box of children's books to inspire her husband to write his own. None of them piqued his interest or imagination-until he reached the bottom of the box. As Van Allsburg wrote in a tribute to Sendak upon his death, I discovered a small book that was unlike the others. That book was Sendak's Higglety Pigglety Pop! and Van Allsburg has been writing ever since.

Opening Curtain with Drosselmeyer, 2014 - Image Courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

Opening Curtain with Drosselmeyer, 2014
Image courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

When preparing to launch the project, Van Allsburg and Patricia Barker pored over E.T.A Hoffmann's original story and discovered architecture, clothing, embellishments and the like that had been lost through the years. However, the heart of The Nutcracker is intact.

"Allsburg and Caniparoli were adamant from the beginning to focus on the original story of The Nutcracker," Barker said. "Lee is also part of the vision and ensuring from beginning to end you see the complete story line of Clara coming of age and going through a wonderful adventure."

Model and sketch of the street scene including mock-ups of dancers - Image Courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

Model and Sketch of the Street Scene Including Mock-ups of Dancers
Image courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

Van Allsburg's original artwork is the inspiration for the all-new sets. This year also boasts brand new costumes. Barker noted even though DeVos Performance Hall is a large theater seating 2,700, you still feel as if you're on stage with the characters.

New Nutcracker Costumes - Image Courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

New Costumes
Image courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

The city of Grand Rapids is embracing Nutcracker Season as well, with select hotels offering Nutcracker Season packages and local restaurants creating a special Land of Sweets dessert. Select restaurants and bars will compete in a "Land of Sweets" Nutcracker Cocktail Contest in December, with the winner decided by public vote.

Grand Rapids Ballet executive director Glenn Del Vecchio noted that the goal for the Grand Rapids Ballet is to tour.

"The Nutcracker is our gift to the community in so many ways," said Corey Lipsey, Grand Rapids Ballet Marketing Coordinator. "This production will stand as a West Michigan cultural export for many years to come."

Tickets are still available for what promises to be a wonderful update to a family tradition.