Nutcracker Huntsville HBC

Huntsville Ballet Company has presented “The Nutcracker” to generations of Huntsvillians. With a cast of over 150, dancing to Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score performed live by The Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, this magical holiday collaboration was first performed in Huntsville under the artistic direction of Lloyd Tygett in 1969, and has been a holiday tradition ever since. In 2013, Phillip Otto, the Artistic Director for the Huntsville Ballet Company, decided "to give the community a sense of ownership in the production of ‘The Nutcracker.'”

Huntsville Ballet Company presents the 51st annual Nutcracker
December 13-15, 2019
Von Braun Center, Mark C. Smith Concert Hall
Tickets available for purchase at VBC Box Office and Ticketmaster.

Shaping The Nutcracker to Reflect Huntsville

Phillip Otto was hired in 2008 and after some time in Huntsville and immersing his family in the rich southern history, Otto felt it was time to update HBC’s Nutcracker . In 2013, Otto began a five year redesign of the sets and costumes of The Nutcracker to relate the beloved holiday event to Huntsville’s past.

Huntsville Ballet’s retelling of the classic Nutcracker story is set in the home of Dr. Alexander Erskine, a physician originally from Virginia, and his family who resided at 515 Franklin Street. In collaboration with David Harwell, the theater program director at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the Party Scene backdrop was created to depict the ballroom of the Erskine home, and is adorned with the portraits Alabama’s first governor and his wife, Governor and Mrs. William Wyatt Bibb.

The elaborate period costumes, created by Huntsville Ballet’s costume designer Lisa Ordway, depict the antebellum style with hoop skirts, petticoats, pantaloons and snoods for the ladies (even the governess and maid!); and coattails, waistcoats, cravats, and kilts for the gentlemen. Ringlets, ruffles, and pantaloons for the party girls, and velvet coats and knickers for the party boys complete the look. Among Dr. Erskine’s guests are the following Huntsville families: Mr. and Mrs. George Gilliam Steele, Mr. and Mrs. James Joseph Donegan, Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Pope Walker, Mr. and Mrs. William Willis Garth, and Samuel Coltart.

Huntsville Ballet Nutcracker

Huntsville Ballet Company's Rocket City Take on The Nutcracker

Here is the story of Huntsville Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker, reimagined by Phillip Otto, Artistic Director:

On Christmas Day in antebellum Huntsville, Alabama, Dr. and Mrs. Alexander Erskine together with their children, Laura and Albert, prepare for the Christmas party they are hosting that evening. Soon the guests arrive and the party begins with holiday dancing and conversation. When Drosselmeyer, Laura’s favorite uncle, arrives on a visit from Germany, he delights the guests with magic tricks. To Laura, Drosselmeyer presents a special gift, a beautiful wooden Nutcracker. Laura is enthralled with her new toy, but Albert, jealous, tries to grab it away. In the scuffle, the Nutcracker breaks. Laura is heartbroken, but Drosselmeyer mends it. The party comes to an end, the guests depart, and the children go to bed.

Unable to sleep, Laura steals downstairs to check on her nutcracker. As she cradles her toy, she falls asleep. Suddenly, the room is magically transformed and a growing Christmas tree rises as Clara falls into her dream. Laura awakes to discover giant mice led by the evil Mouse King attempting to steal the children’s toys. The Nutcracker, who has come to life, takes command of a company of toy soldiers and a battle ensues. The Nutcracker and Laura are victorious. Drosselmeyer then magically transforms the Nutcracker into a handsome prince who leads Laura to the land of snow where the Longleaf Pine, Alabama’s state tree, is covered with freshly fallen snow in the ethereal backdrop. There the Snow Queen and her lovely snowflakes dance for them. While the stars, who call to mind the night that the Stars fell on Alabama, a spectacular occurrence of the Leonid Meteor Shower that had been observed in Alabama in November 1833, guide them, the couple then travel to the Land of Sweets. There they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her court where Laura and the Prince tell the court of their adventures. The Sugar Plum Fairy is impressed and invites them to enjoy the delights of the Land of Sweets. Laura and her Prince are entertained by the festive dances of the divertissements. Flavors of Huntsville’s past can be gleaned from the appearance of the Gypsies, a nod to a Gypsy Queen buried in Huntsville’s Maple Hill Cemetery . Milkmaids pay homage to Huntsville’s famous Lily Flagg, and Aunt Eunice, beloved to countless Huntsvillians, has been known to make an appearance. After Laura and the Prince have traveled through the Land of Sweets, the Watercress Fairy waltzes for them among the lovely Camellia blooms.

The climax of the magical evening is a grand pas de deux (a dance for two) by the Sugar Plum Fairy, adorned in her red velvet cake tutu and her Cavalier, adorned as her cream cheese icing. followed by the grand finale. After they have been entertained by the festive dances of the different confections, Laura and her Prince bid everyone farewell as morning begins to dawn.

Huntsville Ballet Company Nutcracker

History of Huntsville Symphony Orchestra

Huntsville, originally known as Twickenham, was first settled by John Hunt near the Big Spring in the early 1800’s. It remained a mostly agricultural based community until the early 1950s when, due in part to the proximity of Redstone Arsenal, the arrival of German rocket scientists and subsequent development of the space program, forever changed the demographics of Huntsville. The Germans brought with them an artistic culture, so prominent in Europe, and were instrumental in the formation of the Huntsville Civic Orchestra, which later became the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra. “While their professional lives were dedicated to realizing visions of flights into space, many of them were skilled amateur musicians who shared a deep-seated passion for classical music.” (Quote excerpt from HSO’s website.) The Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1955 by Alvin Dreger, a cellist from Huntsville, had forty musicians, many of whom were German rocket scientists. Their first conductor was Dr. Arthur M. Fraser. The HSO is the oldest continuously operating professional orchestra in the state of Alabama. {Wikipedia}

The propulsion of Huntsville from a small southern town to the center of the “Space Race” allowed Huntsville to grow rapidly and embrace the arts introduced and supported by their new resident German community.

Huntsville Ballet Nutcracker

History of Huntsville Ballet Company

Shortly after the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, Huntsville Civic Ballet was organized, with Madame Imogene Stooke Wheeler, as its first Director. Madame Wheeler studied ballet at the Marie Rambert School near London, England, under the tutelage of the successors of Maestro Enrico Cecchetti, formerly of the Ballets Russes, who developed the Cecchetti method of classical ballet. In 1964, Huntsville Civic Ballet was merged with Community Ballet, and incorporated as a non-profit. At that time, Mde. Wheeler was followed by longtime Artistic Director Lloyd Tygett. Before coming to Huntsville, Mr. Tygett danced professionally with the Chicago Opera Ballet, American Festival Ballet, and London Ballet. He was well-known as a choreographer and as an artist where he painted over 60 backdrops for the ballet organization. He served as Artistic Director of the HBC until his retirement in 1997. CBA is the umbrella organization for Huntsville Ballet Company and Huntsville Ballet School and has been a member of The Arts Council (now known as Arts Huntsville) since incorporation. From its world premiere on December 6, 1892, at St. Petersburg’s prestigious Maryinsky Theater to the present day, The Nutcracker , has been a beloved holiday event. Adapted by Alexander Dumas from the E.T.A. Hoffmann tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King , the story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince has brought delight throughout the world. With original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev lvanov and music by Pyotr llich Tchaikovsky, the story quickly became an international holiday classic. Choreographers around the world have found it hard to resist the delightful tale and have often given it their own interpretations. No matter how they choose to adapt it, the timeless joy of the story remains.

Authorship for this article: Huntsville Ballet Staff with special thanks to Lisa Grumbles Ordway, current Wardrobe Mistress for Huntsville Ballet Company, Ms. Linda Soulé, longtime and current teacher at Huntsville Ballet School and her mother, one of the original organizers and CBA historian, Mrs. Levin C. Soulé (Betty), Wardrobe Mistress 1964 - 1994, whose legacy and preservation of the history of Community Ballet continues to contribute as the ballet grows.

Huntsville Ballet Nutcracker