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With Cracked Nutcrackers And Limping Trees, Colorado Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ Is Ready For A Refresh

Mike Watson
Colorado Ballet
The nutcracker doll is designed to break in half but after 30 years of being dropped, Boggs says it's "seen better days."

Colorado Ballet is looking to replace its beloved “Nutcracker” - at least parts of it.

The organization hopes to raise $2.5 million to cover the cost of commissioning new sets, props and costumes in time for the ballet’s 60th anniversary next year.

From disintegrating headpieces to a nutcracker doll whose had its share of breaks, KUNC arts reporter Stacy Nick spoke with the ballet’s artistic director Gil Boggs about how hundreds of performances have taken its toll.

Interview Highlights

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Stacy Nick: So, this year's “Nutcracker” is a little bit different because it’s the last year that you're going to be using these costumes, sets and props. How old are they?

Gil Boggs: The costumes were built in 1986 for San Francisco Ballet. And then when the Ellie Caulkins Opera House was finished being refurbished and opened back up in 2005, we acquired them from San Francisco Ballet to put on the stage here.

So, what made you decide that this was the time?

Well, they've gotten old needless to say, especially the sets. The costumes we've been able to refurbish. We've actually had to make a few new ones and keep those going, so they're in a little bit better shape. The sets though have just worn down basically. So, with the (Colorado Ballet’s 60th anniversary) coming up we just felt like it's a great time to celebrate and have a new production of “Nutcracker” to put on the stage.

So, tell me what kind of condition some of these props and sets are in right now?

They're a little bit wrinkled. Some of the hanging drops - we call them the backdrops - we’re able to mask that with lighting. Lighting does wonders for the production. But it's also a matter that they're thin. They've just worn out the material so you could bump into them and cause a tear. In the snow scene where you have what looks like branches with snow hanging on them, they're actually limping. They can't hold any more. So, we have to get up there and sewed them together and reinforce them.

You did a video to help raise money for the new costumes and sets and you were very honest about some of the things the dancers have to deal with, particularly the headpieces.

The mice heads, they're starting to deteriorate on the inside. And so, the gentleman actually wear goggles inside to keep that out of their eyes.

That's got to be really hard to dance with.

Well, they've gotten used to it, I guess you could say, over the years. They do a wonderful job with it.

And the nutcracker doll, it’s also seen some better days?

The nutcracker doll has seen better days, yes. You have to remember that Fritz grabs the doll from Clara every performance and drops it on the floor and it looks like it breaks in half. It's actually meant to do that. But you can imagine that with 29 performances and seven or eight rehearsals each year that it's getting dropped every time, it's wearing out.

How do you guys keep all of this looking so good still? I mean, because I think from the audience perspective, you don't see these things.

You don't see them at all. We use the lighting to help with some of the wrinkles in that. But unless you're standing right next to them, you wouldn't notice it at all. And it's held up very well, but before it just completely disintegrates on us, we're going to make the change. But people coming to performance whether they've seen it before or i it's the first time seeing it, it's going to look beautiful on stage. I can guarantee you that. But before it stops doing that, I think it's time to make a change.

Is it going to be dramatically different?

No. First of all, the most nervous person about this is me because it's a beautiful production. The audiences love it. And so, the change is, it's scary, I'll be honest with you. But it's going to remain Victorian. That's what our audiences are used to. The choreography is going to remain the same, so we're just going to freshen it up.

And what will happen with the old pieces?

I'm not sure yet. José Verona was the designer of those pieces and it depends on our agreement, having purchased those through his estate. If we're allowed to sell (them) it might be helping other companies across the country who are in need of things for their “Nutcracker.”

Is it a little bittersweet this year, knowing this is the last year with these sets and costumes?

I think for those of us who have been around since they've gotten here, and when we do that last performance, I think there's going to be a few emotional tears on the stage definitely saying goodbye to them.

Colorado Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” runs through Dec. 29.

Colorado Ballet is an underwriter of KUNC.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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