Festival Ballet Providence Presents a Sparkly New “Nutcracker”

December 15, 2021

This holiday season, Festival Ballet Providence is rolling out a brand-new Nutcracker. Running December 17–26 at Providence’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium (The VETS), the production features fresh choreography by FBP artistic curator Yury Yanowsky, new costume and lighting design and a revamped set. With these changes, Yanowsky and FBP director Kathleen Breen Combes aim to present a traditional but inspiring take on the time-honored ballet.

When asked what audiences may expect from the new production, Breen Combes describes its “regal” look, with design elements reminiscent of The Royal Ballet’s production. As Clara and Drosselmeyer enter Act II’s magical realm, they approach a lake inspired by the one outside the Stahlbaum house in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original 1816 story, “The Nutcracker and The Mouse King.” Breen Combes and Yanowsky also chose to double down on the idea of internationality, rather than different kinds of holiday sweets and delicacies. They discussed this approach extensively, compelled to pursue it responsibly.

Yanowsky, a native Spaniard, studied traditional national dances and collaborated with specialists to inform his creation of Act II. He filled the Spanish variation with classical Spanish dance. “I’m proud of Spanish folk dance and want to represent it well,” he says. “We wanted to do that with all of the divertissements.” For instance, he partnered with classical Chinese dance artist and FBP School faculty member Chu Ling to make an accurate and celebratory Chinese divertissement.

Creating a new production sprang out of both necessity and a venue change. This year, the company is downsizing by moving its Nutcracker to The VETS, which seats 1,933 audience members (the show’s previous home at the Providence Performing Arts Center seats 3,100). “Knowing how much Nutcracker means to our bottom line, going to a smaller venue was very advantageous for us,” Breen Combes explains, adding that it allows the company to add performances and increase ticket sales. However, the change of space also called for smaller sets.

Ballerina Kirsten Evans is shown from the thighs up in front of a gray backdrop. She wears a red tutu with gold trim and her blonde hair piled high in a large updo. She waves a silver majog wand with her right hand and looks down towards her feet.
Festival Ballet Providence’s Kirsten Evans as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Ian Travis Barnard, Courtesy Festival Ballet Providence

Amid the pandemic, building a new production from the ground up was essentially impossible, so Breen Combes, a former principal with Boston Ballet, called upon her resources in the dance world. “We’ve leaned on our network connections,” she says. “They’ve been integral in giving us the confidence, time and resources we’ve needed to make this happen.”

With these connections, designing the production became a collaborative process—the show includes refitted and repainted set pieces from Atlanta Ballet’s retired production, lighting design by Boston Ballet lighting director Brandon Stirling Baker, new Nutcracker and Rat King masks created by Providence “creature creators” Big Nazo Lab, and Drosselmeyer magic-trick tips from a local magician. Yanowsky’s sister, former Royal Ballet principal Zenaida Yanowsky, has even joined the project, overseeing rehearsals.

Yury Yanowsky adds that the collaborative effort also extends to a very special group of individuals. The new production includes parts for more children than ever before: Over 100 dancers ages 7 and up are cast as party guests, angels, reindeer, polichinelles and more. In the past, FBP’s Nutcracker did not include a Mother Ginger divertissement, but that changed when Breen Combes and Yanowsky decided to prioritize the children’s involvement.

“The ballet should be about the kids, especially after the year we’ve had,” says Yanowsky. “I’ve been telling them, ‘We are making this—you are a part of the original creation!’”

“It’s very special,” adds Breen Combes. “Artistically, this is at a much larger scale than what we’ve done in the past. I can’t wait for the kids to get into the theater and see what they’re a part of.”