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Hilton Head Dance Theatre's 'The Nutcracker' goes for a different approach; ballet opens Friday

Returning are guest artists Anna Porter and Journy Wilkes-Davis performing the dream version of Marie and her Nutcracker prince.
Returning are guest artists Anna Porter and Journy Wilkes-Davis performing the dream version of Marie and her Nutcracker prince. Submitted photo

For generations, "The Nutcracker" story -- about a young girl who dreams of a prince before being whisked away to a land of sweets -- has dazzled audiences young and old.

For many, it wouldn't be the holidays without seeing the fairy tale ballet at least once.

But how do you keep a production as storied as "The Nutcracker" fresh?

That seems to be the challenge artistic directors through the ages have faced as the more than 100-year-old ballet is as famous for its myriad versions as it is for its "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" score.

"Every time we do it, I try to take a different approach," said Karena Brock-Carlyle, artistic director and co-founder of the Hilton Head Dance School, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Brock-Carlyle, who once served as principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre and danced with stars such as Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, still remembers when the ballet was something only the bigger companies took on.

"The smaller companies just didn't do it," she said recently while taking a short break from tending to costumes. Brock-Carlyle and her husband, co-founder and artistic director John Carlyle, were quickly preparing for the school's upcoming season of "The Nutcracker," which opens Friday.

For schools like Brock-Carlyle's and the Hilton Head Dance Theatre, the non-profit behind the school, changing things up is all part of the magic and artistry in bringing the Christmas ballet to life each fall.

"It's challenging to the dancers as well," she said. "We don't want to get stuck in a rut. We want it to be fresh for them, too. And I think the kids enjoy having a change."

Without revealing all of the magic behind this year's Nutcracker, fans can expect to see a couple of new characters and some interesting scene changes.

Character additions include a cadet at the Christmas party as well as an older sister to Marie.

Marie, by the way, was the name of the young girl in the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story while Clara was the name of her doll. Today, most ballets tend to use the name Clara for the role of the young dreamer.

Scene changes include a shifting of the smaller children, who typically appear in the battle scene with the menacing Mouse King, to the second act, where they will now appear as candy canes.

In addition, a new scene toward the end will include all of the ballet's major characters as they "swarm past" Marie in a dream-like sequence.

Brock-Carlyle is particularly excited about the scene which she patterned after the '70s version of "The Nutcracker" starring Baryshnikov.

"I look around to see what other productions are doing and see how we should approach different things," she said.

Why, then, has the ballet had such staying power among both audiences and ballet companies?

"I really don't know," Brock-Carlyle said. "I've never really analyzed it. I've just been so fortunate to have been involved in it since forever."

Then, as an afterthought, she added, "We usher in the holiday season with it and that's what I love about it. It's that wonderful time of year of love and sweetness and giving and that's all part of it."

If You Go

The Hilton Head Dance Theatre will present "The Nutcracker" at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, Nov. 20 and 21 and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 22, at the Seahawk Cultural Center on the campus of Hilton Head Island High School, 70 Wilborn Road, Hilton Head.

Tickets are $28 with discounts for seniors ages 60 and older, students and children.

For information or tickets, call 843-842-3262 or visit www.hiltonheaddance.com.

Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.

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