NEW LONDON — The Eastern Connecticut Ballet is trying a novel approach to its yearly performance of the Nutcracker — a hybrid performance that is half on-screen, half on-stage.
The COVID pandemic was, of course, responsible for the shift. The Nutcracker requires a large number of child performers, many of whom have, until recently, been unable to get vaccinated because of their age.
“We really wanted to include all of our dancers this year in the Nutcracker,” said Jenna Berloni, a project coordinator at the Eastern Connecticut Ballet. “And there was a lot of conversations about how can we do that safely, since we have younger dancers who are unable to be vaccinated at this point due to their age.”
Burloni said that the performance included 61 student dancers between the age of 6 and 18, half of whom were too young to be vaccinated until the end of October.
The solution that the ballet school came up with was to film the first act of the show, which includes the largest number of child dancers.
Audience members at the Garde Theater in New London will watch the first act of the performance projected on a giant screen. Afterward, Berloni explained, the screen will rise, and the adult dancers — including three performers from the New York City Ballet — will be on the stage dancing live.
The Eastern Connecticut Ballet has performed the Nutcracker annually for 19 years. While the traditional ballet is set in Germany, their rendition takes place in New London during the mid-19th century, when it was a whaling village. Berloni said that decision was made back when they first started performing, in the hope of making it “a little more relevant and magical.”
“Our first backdrop is beautifully designed to be like the New London harbor in the 1850s,” said Berloni.
Berloni said she believes the local setting gives more significance to the story.
“I think this story is just given more depth and you are given more context into Clara and her family and her father who is a merchant in the New London Seaport,” she said. “And he’s come home to this wonderful Christmas party with his family and members of the community.”
This year’s performance required creativity in another area. Normally, the youngest dancers, who are dressed up like mice, have whiskers and a nose painted on their faces. This year, hampered by COVID safety measures, staff members and volunteers sewed pom-poms onto scraps of fabric to make mouse-masks.
Although the young dancers won’t be performing live, Berloni said, it was still a joyful experience for them to dance onstage when the group was filmed in early November.
“Just the fact that we were able to get them in full costume with full lights and props and scenery and volunteers, and everyone came together and they were able to dance on stage — we knew that was the most important part of all of this and any way we could do it safely, we were going to do,” she said.
Berloni added that each of the young dancers gets free tickets to watch the show.
Performances will take place on Saturday, December 11th at 1:30pm and 7:00pm, and Sunday, December 12th at 11:00am and 4:30pm.
Tickets are available here.