Beginning Dec. 3, the esteemed Ballet Austin celebrates 60 years of performing holiday classic The Nutcracker, bringing back original cast members and more.
By Cy White, Photos by Anne Marie Bloodgood
For 60 years, Ballet Austin has hosted one of the most time-honored productions in ballet history: The Nutcracker. With its storied history of the production, Ballet Austin has created an interactive experience unlike any other. From Dec. 3 to Dec. 23, Ballet Austin will welcome back original cast members and honoring those who’ve passed on. The company invites the Austin community to immerse themselves in remarkable lifelong memories. Ballet Austin Executive Director Cookie Ruiz and Senior Manager of Digital and Social Media Anne Marie Bloodgood share their thoughts on the significance of this historic occasion.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
CR: My name is Cookie Ruiz, and I am the executive director of Ballet Austin.
AB: My name is Anne Marie Bloodgood; I am the senior manager of digital and social media and chief photographer of Ballet Austin. I am also a former professional dancer of 18 years, the last 13 of which were spent on the stage here at Ballet Austin.
Could you tell us your earliest memory of The Nutcracker?
CR: I grew up on a remote military installation in the middle of the Mojave Desert. So while the sights of The Nutcracker didn’t occur until high school, the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s score are interlaced with my first memories of Christmas.
AB: As a child I used to watch and re-watch Pacific Northwest Ballet’s VHS of The Nutcracker. I absolutely adored it, especially the Peacock in Act II. My first time seeing it live was at the age of 9 when I saw the Joffrey Ballet perform it. I remember being particularly enthralled by the costumes for Waltz of the Flowers.
This is obviously an important and momentous occasion for Ballet Austin. Can you tell us your emotions/headspace going into this 60th anniversary performance?
CR: The emotion we feel at Ballet Austin is gratitude. We’re grateful to our community as we contemplate the curtain going up for the 60th consecutive year on the longest-running production of The Nutcracker in our state. We recognize that we are stewards of something so precious and appreciate that year after year our audiences come to honor the traditions within families and with their groups of friends. We feel fortunate to be part of this time.
AB: I think many of us here at Ballet Austin see The Nutcracker as a very special event every year. It’s many people’s first introduction to ballet, and it’s always top of mind that each performance is someone’s very first Nutcracker experience. We hope that it’s as special for them as it is for us.
I think specifically coming up on the 60th anniversary production there’s this sense of awe. Sixty is a lot of years; that’s a lot of firsts for so many people in our community and a lot of holiday traditions built around seeing The Nutcracker year after year. I think for many of us it’s sinking in what an honor it is to be a steward of helping create so many memories for so many families.
Can you tell us a bit about the Footlights pre-show conversation and the Ballet-o-mania interactive experience lounge?
CR: The very best way to enjoy The Nutcracker is to plan to arrive early to enjoy the fun… and when you do, Footlights and Ballet-o-mania are two of the many things to do before the performance begins. “Footlights” is a 20-minute pre-show talk that provides behind-the-scenes details of The Nutcracker. Ballet-o-mania is a self-guided interactive experience lounge that provides insights on The Nutcracker and its history, as well as some interesting information about upcoming Ballet Austin productions.
How did you decide on what you would do to commemorate the 60th anniversary?
CR: Teamwork! Our Ballet Austin team had such fun all summer long contemplating all kinds of ideas.
The opening evening includes a homecoming night. Can you give a sneak peek of who’s confirmed to attend and what you might have in store for those returning?
CR: We are searching for a group of VIPs. These folks, our Nutcracker “alumni,” spent time, at some point, as dancers on a stage in Ballet Austin’s production of The Nutcracker. We are trying to find as many of them as possible to reconnect. But here’s the twist. Many of the folks we’re trying to find may have been on stage as little mice, party girls or maybe as angels, or soldiers or even bon-bons! It’s so much fun to find each new name and to read their stories. We will recognize all those in the audience coming on Opening Night, and have a special reception planned in their honor. It will be wonderful to reconnect and hear their stories.
What do you want to say to those who’ve been a part of The Nutcracker for 60 years at Ballet Austin?
CR: When we think of The Nutcracker, we think in terms of people. The artists on stage dancing in gorgeous costumes to incredibly difficult choreography in what becomes a physical marathon for their bodies, bringing such joy to so many. We think of the other important group of people on the other side of the footlights, our community. We estimate that more than 1.5 million people have seen our production since 1962.
So what do we say to those allowing us to be part of their holiday traditions all of these years? We say “thank you” and hope to see each one of them this Diamond Anniversary year.
If you could attach one word to this occasion, what would it be? What is the significance of this word?
CR: I’ve used the word “tradition” a lot. To me, traditions seem to be the “soul” of a family that is passed from one generation to the next. Whether the family shares DNA or is one that came together by choice.
But I’d like to add the word I feel each time the symphony’s overture begins and the curtain goes up on another performance. Nearly 200 eager children, Ballet Austin Academy students, are waiting backstage for their cues, our extraordinary professional dancers waiting to perform to sold-out houses. And there it is: the word is MAGIC!
AB: Homecoming. The Nutcracker feels like coming home for the holidays each and every year. This year especially, as we seek out and invite all of our former cast members to celebrate with us.
Any final thoughts?
CR: As a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to making art available to everyone, Ballet Austin raises funds throughout the year to keep prices down and to be able to offer a range of ticket prices to audience members, which normally range from $15 to $125. The best seats and prices are always available on Ballet Austin’s website. In no case is it necessary to pay more than the stated range of ticket prices to attend Ballet Austin’s production of The Nutcracker.
We are also thankful to local Austin businesses who have supported The Nutcracker production for the past 60 years. This year, we are proud to partner with female business leaders like Kendall Antonelli, who will be one of our Mother Gingers this year. We’re also proud to partner with women-owned businesses like Kendra Scott. These proceeds will help bring the joy of dance to our community through performances, community access and educational programs.
And finally, for those new to Austin, come and let us welcome you, Austin style. For those who have come in the past, this is the year to “see it again, for the first time!”
Grab your tickets for the 60th anniversary celebration of The Nutcracker on the Ballet Austin website.