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If you go
What: Fort Wayne Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”
When: 7 p.m. today, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, featuring Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children’s Choir; performances through Dec. 15
Where: Arts United Center, 303 E. Main St.
Admission: $28 to $45 adults, $23 to $40 seniors, $18 to $35 youth and $15 to $30 children, and $8 for Sugar Plum Parties; additional ArtsTix fees apply; go to or call 422-4226
Lucy Fernandes stars as Clara in the holiday show.

‘Nutcracker’ dances in for ballet

Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Juanita Araque dances as the Snow Queen in Fort Wayne Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” which has performances through Dec. 15.
Chris Knutson, left, and Jack Miller have a sword fight during “The Nutcracker,” which starts tonight.

Working as Fort Wayne Ballet’s executive artistic director for 16 years, it’s easy to assume that Karen Gibbons-Brown knows exactly what to expect from the annual performance of “The Nutcracker.”

But Gibbons-Brown says it’s all open to interpretation.

“Dancers will look different every time they do it,” she says. “When you have two different couples dancing the snow pas de deux and sugar plum pas de deux, you can see the different elements and technical aspects to their artistry. Even though you see different interpretations doesn’t mean it changes the story.”

Fort Wayne Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” kicks off another holiday season today with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Fort Wayne Children’s Choir accompanying performances this weekend.

The original story is based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” which is about a young girl who goes on a journey when her Nutcracker comes to life. Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky used a portion of Hoffman’s fairy tale and transformed it in 1892 into a ballet about a girl named Clara. “The Nutcracker” has become one of the most celebrated ballets worldwide for more than a century.

Gibbons-Brown says that both dancers and audience can interpret something new from each annual performance.

“The story line is the same, and the journey is always the same,” she says. “However, when I bring in a new Clara into rehearsals – they all have different gifts. We ask them what they know about the real story and how are you going to interpret different scenes. Like in the transition scene (in Act 1 of the ballet) – is the Christmas tree growing or are you shrinking?

“The audience takes away something different and that’s the beauty of live art in this dimension.”

Different to this year’s performance will be a new backdrop for Act 2 of the play as Clara and the Nutcracker enters the Land of Sweets. Gibbons-Brown says the new set is part of a project to rebuild sets for the entire ballet for next season.

The play will also feature Fort Wayne Ballet’s new company dancers Caitlin Quinn and Ernesto Lea Place. Quinn will play the Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy, and Lea Place will portray the Snow and Sugar Plum Cavalier.

Gibbons-Brown says preparing for the show never is an easy task, but even after 16 years, she still finds the final production magical.

“It’s one of those wonderful traditions that you want to keep it new and fresh without losing the integrity of the story,” she says.

Fort Wayne Ballet continues to collaborate with organizations such as Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control to incorporate adoptable “Muttcrackers” into the first act of the play. The ballet company will also offer special performances for area school groups that allow students to meet the principal dancers and learn the story behind the dance.

Children and audience members are also encouraged to meet dancers and see the handmade costumes up close at the Sugar Plum Party after all afternoon performances.

Gibbons-Brown says “The Nutcracker” is often the first ballet experience for audiences, and like a five-course meal, she wants the audience to savor every minute of it.

“I would like it to be a feast for all the senses; I want the kinetic movement to make you sit up a little straighter – I don’t want it to be just a visual feast,” she says. “There are very few moments of peace in our chaotic world, and I want it take away some stress. I would like the audience to feel refreshed.”