‘Nutcracker’ production a force for good in community
This December, the Eastern Connecticut Ballet sends a love letter to New London — a new “Nutcracker” production with sets featuring landmarks and design elements from the city’s 19th-century maritime past.
Lise Reardon is the founder and executive director of the Eastern Connecticut Ballet, and the force behind the redesign.
“We wanted to make the new production a gift to the region — make it more personal,” Reardon said.
To that end, she recast the story.
“The father is now a sea captain home from a long voyage,” she said. “The battle is between sailors (not soldiers) & pirates. Clara is almost forced to walk the plank!”
The first show curtain depicts a snowy scene with the Custom House, New London Light, and a house from Whale Oil row, with ships in the harbor.
“People from this area will be excited to see that — and I hope feel very connected to it,” she said.
Reardon did much of the preliminary historical research for the new production. The sets were designed by Fufan Zhang, who has a master’s of fine arts from the Yale School of Drama, and they were built at the Yale School of Drama’s design shop.
I for one, couldn’t be more grateful. For seven years, New London Maritime Society has brought the city’s school children to visit our local landmarks. At this Nutcracker, students will see these places actually come to life.
“It’s one thing to look at them from an historic view,” Reardon said. “But to see them in an artistic context – with music, dancing, the artwork of the sets — it’s stunning.”
This is the ninth year as artistic director for Gloria Govrin, a former dancer and teacher with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. It was her destiny, she said, to rework the ECB’s Nutcracker.
“Balanchine was so famous for his Nutcracker. I remember him saying that the Nutcracker was for and about children — he loved working with children.”
“Every year I have tinkered with the production – trying to make the story clearer,” she added, and the new setting in New London and on the high seas has posed its challenges. “Until this year we never had a tree that grows, which was a bit of a problem because in most Nutcracker productions the tree grows in the living room followed by the battle between the mice and toy soldiers,” Govrin said. “In our version the battle takes place on the high seas, so the tree growing is the transition between when Clara falls asleep on the settee and the rest of the ballet.”
As Tchaikovsky’s music crashes, in most Nutcrackers the tree reaches its height, but in ECB’s version the house lifts up, the tree rises and a boat comes on.
“I love it!” Govrin said. “Is it a dream or is it real? You can forgive some things because dreams don’t always make complete sense. This New London interpretation is unique, but the more I’ve worked on it the more I like it.”
The heroes of this production are not just the brave Nutcracker, but Lise Reardon and Gloria Govrin, both of whom were 2018 honorees on Nov. 5 at the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame “for their work in service to their communities in Connecticut, and beyond.”
Each year, 2,700 students in 22 Connecticut towns attend ECB school children’s performances at the Garde Arts Center, free of charge (schools provide transportation only). In advance of the performance, the ballet company provides teachers with education packets to help prepare students for the show.
ECB awards 500 free tickets to military and underserved families throughout southeastern Connecticut. Seventeen social service agencies also receive free tickets to the productions.
The ECB school also provides partial and full scholarships for talented and motivated dance students who need financial aid, including from New London Public Schools. Many of the young dancers perform in the Nutcracker.
Ballet is a discipline that prepares students for whatever future they may choose. Cate Steel, parent of a former ECB student, recently wrote, “My daughter, Emily Steel, from the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize this April, for her work to promote social justice. I have ECB to thank for this award, as they were integral in helping Emily form the basic values one needs to stand up, speak up, show up and perform in all areas of life when opportunity calls.”
Susan Tamulevich is the executive director of New London Maritime Society
What: Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" ballet
Who: Eastern Connecticut Ballet
When: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8; 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9
Where: Garde Arts Center, New London
Tickets: 860-444-7373 x1
Special event: 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Custom House Maritime Museum, New London, Clara and Sailor Doll dancers appear for photos (free; no tickets required)