Photo by Carol Tedesco
Working as an editor at Southern Living occasionally affords me opportunities to get behind the scenes at various events and places, iconic and otherwise. As a result, I’ve experienced more than a few moments of awe, visages of beauty that have given me cause to pause and just watch what unfolds before me. I walked into such a moment last week when I watched rehearsals of the inimitable Nutcracker Key West in the island town’s Tennessee Williams Theatre.
Granted, it was only a practice session for the ballet which begins its limited run next week (see below for dates), but sans costumes and sets, I found myself focusing on the dancers. In just leotards, shorts, and warm ups, their athleticism and grace were front, center, and fantastic. My one lament was that I couldn’t stay to see a performance with the production’s wonderfully creative and ingenious costumes, scenery, and props that set the stage for this truly unique version of Nutcracker – a production that celebrates the unfettered spirit of its island host.
Members of the Nutcracker Key West’s professional Corps d’ Ballet (left to right): Sara Singarella (freelance visiting professional ballet dancer from Ft. Worth, TX), Sara Sardelli (currently dances for Ballet Gamonet USA), and Kyla Piscopink (dancer and artistic director, Key West Contemporary Dance Co.). Photo by Carol Tedesco
Rewritten, driven, and largely funded by local ballet maven Joyce Stahl, this take on the venerable ballet includes not just a nutcracker but, with a nod to local culture, a conch nutcracker. The mice and their king are replaced by Key West’s ever-present scampering chickens and a menacing Rooster King, while the Palace of Sweets gives way to the Salt Ponds, explored by Clara and her Navy Ensign in a diving bell. Looking at the photos on the production’s web site, as well as the costumes and sets during a backstage tour, I was amazed, even astonished at the amount of energy and funding invested in this production – some estimates value the costumes alone at $500,000.
Bottom line: If you’re anywhere close to mile marker 0, take in this production. As with most versions of the Nutcracker, it’s by all accounts a wonderfully accessible ballet that delights young and old, as well as the dance novice and connoisseur. The production has already earned a special place in the collective conch consciousness – this will only be its third year – and word has already spread beyond the island’s shores about its creative take on an established masterpiece and the many marvelous performances of its combination professional and volunteer cast.
See Nutcracker Key West performed at the Tennessee William’s Theatre November 28-30 and December 2-7, 2008. For more about Nutcracker Key West, see http://nutcrackerkeywest.org/default.aspx. Also, a documentary was made about the 2005 production titled Underwater: The Making of the Key West Nutcracker; to learn more about it, visit http://www.underwaterkeywest.com/.