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No 'Nutcracker' fatigue for patrons of Indianapolis School of Ballet's Annual Production

by Rita Kohn
December 17, 2015
Scottish Rite Cathedral Theater
650 N Meridian Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
317.262.3110
Rita Kohn is a member of the Board of the Dance Critics Association.
Oh no, not another Nutcracker!
For some it’s a ho-hum. A ballet-Scrooge reaction that has some merit if it’s just a hum-drum let’s make some money off this holiday chestnut performance.

However, if you are someone who lives in inner city Indianapolis there’s a different perspective, brought home to me on December 17, 2015 when I attended the community preview of The Nutcracker presented by the Indianapolis School of Ballet in the Scottish Rite Cathedral Theatre in the heart of downtown.

I experienced not only the marvel on stage but the affect on people in the seats who were able to attend because of generous community support. After the performance, waiting in line to reach the exit door one man told me, "It is heaven to come every year."

In the elevator on the way down, one of the two women dressed in what was surely the best they had, told me, "I feel as fancy as you because I got to see what you saw." The other woman, sensitive to the harsh – but poignant comment – said, "This is what we wait for every year, my friend and me. It is our once a year treat."
A nursing home resident waiting to get on the bus remarked, "I have seen a lot of beautiful things in my lifetime but nothing like this. I want to come back tomorrow or the day after, if they let me. I might not be alive next year."

Children lined up for their buses were still in the moment of the performance. I could see girls stretching their feet as if to go on pointe.

One boy was holding back. "Is there a special part you’ll remember," I asked him. He wasn’t sure about answering a stranger, but offered a quietly spoken, "The change." That left a powerful set of options. "The change" in reviewer speak becomes "transformation" and that’s what happened on very personal levels in the heart of downtown Indianapolis on an unusually mild December evening.

The ability to offer transformation through an arts performance touches layers and layers of a community, and the bottom line ultimately rests on having sufficient funding. Tonight’s audience representing all ages might not have registered the impact of the pre-performance welcome by Victoria Lyras, founding artistic director of the Indianapolis School of Ballet. Holding up the printed program’s page of sponsors, she read off the twenty-five names — “Please thank them,” she encouraged, leading off with a handclap. We all dutifully applauded.

I wondered if anyone else but me, associated with a sponsor was also in the audience, also observing the full house, also interacting, feeling the energy and a small bit of pride for being a part of twenty-five civic organizations willing to help underwrite a production that included a community preview performance. Nothing was held back; we were given full-out dedication by a cast of some fifty dancers, a production team, and at least two-dozen volunteers making sure everyone felt welcome.

“For some people who come, this is their first time in this magnificent building,” offered one volunteer when I asked her what she knew about the people coming to what basically is the dress rehearsal. “You can see the wide-eyed looks, hear ‘wow,’ as they come into the theatre. This building is part of the experience.”

In the theatre, amidst the hub-bub, I could see people craning necks to get a full scope of the feel of the wood-paneling and carvings, the stained glass windows and magnificent chandelier. I looked around, too, remembering my first visit some 35 years ago, and allowed the awe of that memory to be part of settling into the overture of Tchailovsky's iconic score for the ballet as the lights dimmed, the crimson curtains parted revealing the façade of the historic Morris-Butler House. A jarring thought — who in this audience is cognizant of this Victorian home, restored by Indiana Landmarks and tucked away in Indianapolis’ Old Northside neighborhood? How would they know about historic homes, much less get to them?

A figure appears on stage – he’s in a long black cape, a black top hat, sweeping a silver-topped cane into the audience. He projects mystery, layers of lighting heighten the feeling, the music swells and we are swept into the event unfolding before us. People in old-fashioned party dresses and suits, hats and capes come up from the audience, head toward the house and suddenly with this representative group we too are inside, witnessing a frozen moment of a family of four adding final touches to the Christmas tree, joining in the joyful sharing of a party and the excitement and the…dream…

In its tenth season, the word is out that the Indianapolis School of Ballet's The Nutcracker is as close as a preparatory program can come to mounting a professional production. It’s been reviewed and lauded and this preview performance only added to expectations.
It’s live, exhilarating and it’s happening because 25 organizations stepped up to make this particular seasonal event happen.

There will be five other performances –‘sold out’ informs the notice on the door into the building. Within days the splendid set pieces replicating the Morris-Butler House and the hundred-plus hand-crafted costumes will be packed away, and the dancers will move on to regular classes in a building a block north from the Statehouse. Preparations for the next community performances at the Indianapolis Artsgarden and elsewhere around the Circle City will commence, with new costumes to be hand-crafted.

The ISB year will conclude in May 2016 with a special tenth anniversary celebration, informs a page in the printed program.

Another page gets to the basics — “Our students rely on our acclaimed faculty, excellent facilities, magical performances, and over $45,000 in scholarships each year. Likewise, ISB relies on the generosity of our donors to further our mission…”

On the drive home, with the on-stage dream and the in-audience reality fresh within me, I resolve to figure out a way to allow an extra performance of the May program featuring a rare array of Balanchine works. Christmas is not the only season for largesse. Once-a-year is not the total allowance for those whose budgets don’t cover ballet. When other needs for shelter and food are indeed more pressing, how can you argue for money to feed the soul, fuel a dream?

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography

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