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Fort Wayne Ballet Brings Back the Holiday Magic of The Nutcracker

There are few holiday traditions as deeply entrenched as Fort Wayne Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker. While other may copy it, none can truly capture the magical quality of the original. And what makes the performances fresh and magical each year is that while the company annually captures the many familiar and beloved notes of its history, it continues to grow and expand, bringing new magic to an already special event.

While many touches have been brought to the production over the years – perhaps chief among them the falling of snow in the Arts United Center at the end of Act I – some other touches of magic have brought depth to the show, something that goes beyond the sentimental trappings of Christmas. Case in point: the Muttcracker element which came into the tradition in 2010. With dogs brought into the opening party scene – which quickly became an audience favorite – the opportunity to meet these canine stars and even begin adoption proceedings in the lobby during intermission has led to more than 100 animals to find forever homes and foot traffic to Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control to rise during otherwise quiet periods. But there’s a change to that community engagement in recent years.

“This year we’re partnering with Humane Fort Wayne for Muttcracker,” said Karen Gibbons-Brown, artistic director of Fort Wayne Ballet. Gibbons-Brown, a devoted pet parent herself, first conceived of Muttcracker after hearing of a similar program elsewhere. After debuting the project in 2010, other arts organizations also began working pet adoption programs into their productions. But while there are many traditional elements of many years worked into The Nutcracker, there are also many new elements to enjoy.

Kris Kringle Village

“This is our second year with the Kris Kringle Village which we’re expanding this year,” Gibbons-Brown said. “There will be several booths on the plaza of the Arts United Center where we’re performing. There will be chalets and entertainment, and Santa will be coming. People can buy the candied almonds, and there will be booths with various artisans. And people can visit the Village whether their attending the performances or not.”

Also new this year is a performance from students at GiGi’s Playhouse, which has as its mission “Changing the way the world views Down syndrome and sending a global message of acceptance for all.”

Students of GiGi's Playhouse at costume fittings

“We teach a ballet class there, and we thought it would be nice to allow some of these students who have worked so hard to perform in the party scene,” Gibbons-Brown said. “They’re very open and free, very spontaneous. And it’s been fun to see their excitement through this process. They’ll be performing in the sensory-friendly performance on December 6 which is sponsored by AWS.”

Although tickets to that performance are not available to the general public, there will be plenty of opportunities to catch a performance of this year’s production. The opening weekend, December 2-4, will also feature the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. Another weekend of performances will follow. (Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased through Performing with the Philharmonic and Children’s Choir are long standing traditions along with much of the choreography and the falling of snow at the end of Act I. A couple traditions – notably the inclusion of many community members in the cast – have been set aside in the wake of COVID. Seeking to prevent exposure for the dancers as much as possible, there were no community auditions again this year, and only a handful of community members (notably Jim Schmidt continuing as Drosselmeyer) will participate in the cast of 140, which includes 95 children. One of the longtime community members who performed in the party scene annually, Joni Dick, sadly passed away earlier this year, and this year’s production is dedicated to her. Many of the party scene performers will now be members of Fort Wayne Ballet’s growing professional corps. As she is each year, Gibbons-Brown is proud of the work her company has done to bring the show to life again this year.

“Our dancers are amazing, and our students look beautiful,” she said. “Fort Wayne Ballet is this community’s ballet company, and we’re proud to be part of the annual celebration of the holiday season in our community.”

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