When life hands you lemons, best to make lemonade. When a pipe burst one weekend last January, flooding the building that houses the New England Ballet Company, much of its scenery, costumes, props and backdrops were heavily damaged. The company has persevered since then, rebuilding and using this opportunity to come back with renewed energy for its 27th annual performance of The Nutcracker Dec. 15 and 16, at The Klein in Bridgeport. Showtimes are Saturday, noon and 5 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
“There was such water damage inside the building, the pipe burst and ran for hours,” said Kenneth Hopkins, executive director and founder, noting no one was in the building at the time. The ballet company is on the first floor of the building and the scenery room is about four feet lower so they found most of the scenery floating. “We literally waded into water to save things.”
Finding a silver lining, Hopkins and his staff used the damage as an opportunity to do a major regrouping of everything.
“It generated a new burst of synergy,” he said, saying dance company members are not only planning for their future and their 30th anniversary, which is coming up in three years, but they also put a fresh spin on The Nutcracker adding new elements and new scenery while still remaining faithful to the classic story.
“We stay true to the original story by Tchaikovsky,” Hopkins said. A holiday tradition featuring a cast of over 50 dancers, the company’s performance of The Nutcracker — from the party scene, the action-packed battle scene and the Waltz of the Flowers to the Grand Pas de Deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier — ticks off all the boxes showgoers expect and will appeal to both young and old.
“It’s definitely family-oriented,” Hopkins said, noting they often see grandparents bringing their grandchildren to The Nutcracker with smiles on everyone’s faces. “It’s a holiday tradition.”
As a pre-professional dance company comprising both serious amateurs and dedicated professional dancers, the New England Ballet Company brings in pros for its top roles. This year, Daniel White, a student teacher at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, takes on the role of the Cavalier and three young women will share the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“I, personally, love how regal this role is in nature. The music is so grand you don’t really need to do too much with the choreography,” White said. “Some of the challenges I do find with it though is staying regal if there’s ever a mistake. I’m looking forward to mostly just performing this and getting the audience’s reaction. This will be my first time doing Cavalier and I’m so lucky I get to do three versions of it with three very distinguished dancers!”
One of the three ladies dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy is Taylor Millbauer of Stratford, who is the company’s development director and grew up dancing with the company. She stopped dancing for about 14 years and recently came back to the company.
“I actually did this role in 2001,” she said, saying she was excited to be “being able to perform it after so many years.” She is also pleased to be sharing the stage with her 11- and 7-year-old daughters who are dancing in the show.
Not surprisingly, she is most looking forward to the Grand Pas de Deux. “I think my favorite part though is the Waltz of the Flowers, which is right before the Pas,” she said. She and her Pas partner, White, who is based in New York City, have been rehearsing together on weekends since August. “It’s more difficult since he is not here all the time, so we work very hard when [we’re] together.”
Last year’s Clara, Chynna Jacobs, who has been studying ballet for 13 years, will reprise her role this year. “What I am most excited about taking on the role of Clara again is the connection I have with the audience while I transform into the character on stage,” she said. “What I have done differently this particular season is really work on my Pas de Deux training.” She has also been working hard on her partnering skills and lifts. “I can’t wait to get on stage to perform the skills I’ve been working on all season long.”
For more information about the show, visit newenglandballet.org or for tickets, visit theklein.org.