The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 14, 2012

Kansas City Ballet's interpretation of 'Nutcracker' comfortable on its new stage

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was an easy decision for Carla Kath, 31, to bring her daughter to see "The Nutcracker." Kath said she wanted to bring her daughter last season but waited a year. She wanted to make sure her 3-year-old remembered the event.

"This is our first time," said Kath, of the Kansas City Ballet's annual interpretation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."

It was a special day for the pair, she added, saying that her daughter had a blast during their "big girl" day. Kath said she thinks it's important to introduce her daughter to performance and visual arts.

"It's important to expose her (and) all kids to culture," she said. "Belle loves dance and music, and I thought she would love and identify with the story and the ballet. She just lights up at the costumes and scenery and dancers. I love watching her face. To her, it's magic."

The Tchaikovsky-scored Christmas classic debuted in St. Petersburg, Russia, more than 110 years ago. Not initially deemed a great success, the story of young Clara, the story's ingenue, and the world she creates in her head on Christmas night, is now one of the most popular ballets in history.

The story of Clara's dream world comes to life on stage at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City through Dec. 23. During the fast-moving show, menacing mice and an army of toy soldiers battle in dance. The Sugar Plum Fairy, her Cavalier court, and dozens of leaping, spinning and waltzing flowers toe-dance with precision to surprisingly recognizable melodies.

For many K.C.-area families, "Nutcracker" is a multi-generational and annual tradition. Todd Bolender, the former artistic director, choreographed the current interpretation. The Kansas City Symphony accompanies the dancers, led by William Whitener, the ballet company's artistic director.

"It's magic," said Mark Sappington, a member of the ballet's board of directors and of the Missouri Arts Council. "I'm attracted by the exotic setting, and the costuming is fabulous."

He's seen many versions of "Nutcracker" during the years and K.C. Ballet's is a favorite, he said.

"It's not just compelling to children," said Sappington, who has experienced many versions of the international tale. "There is universality to it. It's about a young girl facing the challenges of growing up and facing the challenges of adulthood. It's a little scary for (Clara) and there's some unknown to it. It's a story for all ages."

Sappington said he isn't surprised by the continuing appeal of "Nutcracker."

"It's such a pageant," said the K.C. attorney and former Springfield resident. "We've taken our godchild since he was 3 years old. He's 7 now. To watch the wonderment in his eyes at the colors and music is fantastic."

Sappington has observed during his years associated with the ballet that many children react similarly.

"They are just as enthralled and can identify with what's going on on-stage," he said. "It's fantastic."

Sappington said the stage settings, costumes and technical impact of the ballet -- even after years seeing "Nutcracker" -- gets to him every time. A visual highlight, he said, is a moment during which Clara and the rest of her surroundings shrink while the room's Christmas tree grows and the toys under it spring into lifelike action.

"Every time I see the children and Clara shrink into small people while the Christmas tree grows, I'm wowed," said Sappington. "I get goose bumps."

He calls the ballet's score "some of the most beautiful music ever written," and the sets, lights and dancers' skills continue to draw him to the holiday classic. Moving the ballet's "holiday staple from Kansas City's Music Hall was a great improvement," he said.

"Last year was the first year on the Kauffman stage, and that made a huge difference," he said. "Technically, we are able to do so much more. The lighting and size of the stage really enhanced the production. It's more expansive, and (there's) more opportunity for the dancers to move."

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