The holiday entertainment season marches in Thanksgiving weekend with the telltale sounds of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center theater. The holiday favorite features more than 100 area dancers performing with two accomplished professional dancers.
Since 1968, thousands of local dancers have participated in the holiday classic, sponsored by the Black Hills Dance Theatre and performed locally every other year, according to Joleen Zoller, vice president of the group.
This year, the classic holiday tale of Clara’s magical Christmas present, the Nutcracker, coming to life and battling the evil Mouse King is under the tutelage of professional choreographer Brian Reeder.
“He formed this huge group into magic,” Zoller said. “It’s like eye candy. Your eyes are constantly moving from one group to another. You find yourself saying, ‘Oh, wow.’”
Reeder, who performed with the American Ballet Theatre, the William Foresythe’s Ballet in Frankfurt, Germany, and the New York City Ballet, said he is excited to bring the iconic tale to the stage in time for the holiday season.
“‘The Nutcracker’ ballet embodies the holiday spirit,” he said.
For more than 100 years, the classic ballet has been performed throughout the world. During that time, there have been many interpretations of the story. Some have been darker while others have been more lighthearted. Reeder said his interpretation is a more traditional version.
“It gets people psyched for the holiday. All of the elements come together for a festive traditional holiday show,” he said. “When it starts to snow on stage, it gets everybody pepped up and excited.”
More than 100 local dancers are participating from throughout the region, including Philip, Lead, Custer and Spearfish.
“When they say they are trying to represent the area’s talent, they are telling the truth. (The dancers) embody the whole community and the whole area. Some dancers are driving miles and miles to rehearsal each week,” Reeder said.
The upcoming production is the second time Reeder has choreographed “The Nutcracker.” The first time was for a troupe in California. The format was more of a showcase for national talent. This time is much more geared to supporting the talent of the local community.
“It’s really assessing what we have, making sure that recipe works and showcasing the local talent,” he said.
Reeder arrived in Rapid City on Sept. 23. Since that time, he has been working with local dancers. For many of the dancers, this is the first major production they’ve participated in, Zoller said.
The local talent will share the stage with two professional dancers, Brittany Fridenstine and Brent Whitney. Fridenstine is making her second appearance before local audiences. She performed in “The Nutcracker” with Black Hills Dance Theatre in 2005.
She is performing with “Morphoses” in New York City. She also has danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet, the American Repertory Ballet, the Chamber Dance Project and at the National Choreographers’ Initiative.
Whitney danced with the Milwaukee Ballet Company, the Ballet NY, Ballet X, the New York Theater Ballet and the Connecticut Ballet.
The entire experience has been an opportunity for growth for many of the performers, Zoller said.
“They got to experience a real audition. They were judged evenly on their skills alone. Then they got this chance to work with a professional choreographer,” she said.
“It is a big commitment for them,” Reeder said. “The whole reason for the process is so that when the performance comes around, they can enjoy it. We don’t want them thinking about every movement. Hopefully they get to the point where it is just the joy of performing.”
The production isn’t just for the parents and grandparents of the young performers, Reeder said.
“You are enriching the entire neighborhood,” he said. “Bring a kid. Show them what is possible and the magic that can come out of it.”
In fact, it’s the magic of “The Nutcracker” that led Reeder to the stage. “The Nutcracker” was the first ballet he ever saw.
“When the curtain came down, I was like, ‘Sign me up.’ It changed my life,” he said.
That response to the theater can still be felt, even by those who already have seen the holiday favorite.
“Any opportunity to fire up the imagination (in children) and show them the opportunities that are out there is a great opportunity,” he said.