This October, the Berkeley Ballet Theater (BBT) held its yearly Nutcracker Suite performances at the California Shakespeare Theater. This year, the studio decided to reimagine the traditional production, striving for a more inclusive Nutcracker filled with themes of unity and environmental preservation.
Ian Segall, a Berkeley International High School (BIHS) student, played the Moonlight Cavalier in the Grand Pas de Deux. He explained the impetus behind revising the classic production. “Ballet originated in the courts,” he said. “It’s one of the oldest art forms out there, so a lot of the essential works of ballet were created far in the past, when not all the social norms were realized yet.”
Ali Taylor Lange, executive director at BBT, echoed these sentiments. She described The Nutcracker’s outdated imagery, the most apparent example being when Clara and Fritz visit different cultures around the globe in Act Two. “Nutcracker productions as a whole tend to cling to ballet traditions which are better left in the past,” Lange said. “The cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and racism which is frequently portrayed in Act Two of Nutcracker productions was something BBT has stepped away from with this new production.”
The revised story follows Clara and Clark, two young girls, as they journey through the natural world. The performance was narrated by Mother Nature, a whimsical, gender-nonconforming character, dressed in heels and a flowing gown. The character recited nursery rhyme-like stanzas, and urged us to take care of our planet.
Lange added that performing outdoors has presented new challenges, with a dress rehearsal being cut short because of a dewy stage, and a couple of bats flying through the dancers on opening night. In addition, both Saturday performances were canceled due to the rain. Nevertheless, Lange considers the unexpected to be “a part of performing live.”
Robert Dekkers, artistic director and choreographer at BBT, has wanted to revise The Nutcracker for a long time. “Part of Robert’s vision for both Nutcracker and the BBT school is to ask the question of what comes after the purely classical tradition of ballet,” Lange said. “How can the movement continue to evolve while remaining rooted deeply in the technique of ballet?”
This production offers a glimpse into what the future of ballet may hold: storylines that reflect current issues and characters that don’t misrepresent society.