The holiday season is a time to spend reminiscing with dear old friends and sharing warm memories.
This is the last year we’ll have to spend with a friend who has given countless Kansas Citians tremendous joy for the past 33 years: Todd Bolender’s “The Nutcracker.”
The Kansas City Ballet will present Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” for 18 performances beginning Saturday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
This is the 42nd annual “Nutcracker” presented by the Kansas City Ballet, so it’s a rock-solid holiday tradition and isn’t going anywhere.
But this is the last year for the current production, which was created for the Kansas City Ballet in 1981 by its illustrious former artistic director, Todd Bolender. The current artistic director, Devon Carney, is retiring Bolender’s choreography after this season and will give us his own vision next year.
Bolender’s is a traditional “Nutcracker.” The former protege of George Balanchine infused his choreography with Balanchine’s neo-classicism, and his staging would be at home at the Kirov Ballet.
James Jordan, the Kansas City Ballet’s former ballet master, said Bolender did more than emulate his mentor. Originally the entire party scene was Balanchine’s choreography. And the battle scene was by Jerome Robbins.
“They were all friends, George and Jerry and Todd, for decades,” Jordan said. “So Todd set those two scenes and just used them as a basic structure and then finessed them into his own production. Todd shaped his ‘Nutcracker’ with the scenic designs he came up with, and through the years, as scenery wore out and new scenic designs evolved, Todd continued to create his own choreography and George and Jerry’s went farther and farther away.”
Jordan, ballet master for Sarasota Ballet, came to the Kansas City Ballet with Bolender in 1981. He performed as a dancer with the company until 1987, then left for three seasons.
When he returned in 1991, he was named ballet master, a role he maintained with the company until the end of last season. He is returning this year to stage the Bolender “Nutcracker” one last time.
“Todd was traveling the country to check out the various schools where his friends and peers were teaching, so he hand-picked his first little group,” Jordan said. “I was a 21-year-old dancer straight out of school and had never been in the Midwest. Todd offered contracts to four of us at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and we threw our little belongings into a mini U-Haul and drove to Kansas City in the freezing winter.
“It was an adventure. We were just going for the opening gala of the new Kansas City Ballet, so we didn’t know if there would be a company beyond that. We were certainly led to believe that that was the idea, to launch this company, but we weren’t sure until we had been here for a few months that there would be a future.”
There was a future indeed. And “The Nutcracker” was a big part of that future.
As with other ballet companies across the country, “The Nutcracker” is a vital moneymaker for the Kansas City Ballet. Bolender understood that and wanted to make sure his “Nutcracker” was the best it could be. And after years of studying and performing with Balanchine, he knew what made a good “Nutcracker.”
“Todd’s ‘Nutcracker’ definitely falls into the traditional theme,” Jordan said. “There are other ‘Nutcrackers’ around the country, like the Maurice Sendak in Seattle and the one in Tulsa set in the 1920s, so people have ventured away. But the traditional ‘Nutcracker’ is set in the late 1800s, either in Russia or England, and has an Edwardian or Victorian feel about it.”
Bolender’s “Nutcracker” may be traditional, but it certainly isn’t stodgy. The costumes and sets are bright and vibrant, and the music and dancing are given a little more zip than most other productions.
“That’s just part of the Balanchine aesthetic for speed and American athleticism,” Jordan said. “George and Todd both keep it at a faster clip, I think, than some of the more traditional versions.
“I have had to push our conductors through the years to keep it a little faster than they feel like maybe it should be. Our ‘Nutcracker’ is definitely faster than you might hear it at the mall.”
Like Balanchine, Bolender knew that it was very important that a large ballet company have its own school. He started the Kansas City Ballet School in 1981, and, according to Jordan, he wanted to use his “Nutcracker” to challenge and stretch young ballet students.
“I’m really fond of this production because it is so challenging,” Jordan said. “Todd said that since we’re going to have to do ‘The Nutcracker’ every year for the financial health of the company, let’s make sure that the company and the students in the school are challenged and learn something and become better artists from working on this production every year. There are choreographic intricacies and challenges throughout.”
Jordan has been with the Bolender “Nutcracker” every step of the way, taking meticulous notes and passing along the traditions and choreography.
But is this the end of the road for the Bolender “Nutcracker”? It seems a pity that such a classic, traditional “Nutcracker” might never be seen again.
“It could very well resurface,” Jordan said. “The city of Sarasota is tied to the history of the Ringling circus, so the Sarasota Ballet has a Ringling-inspired ‘Nutcracker,’ which I haven’t seen yet, but sounds like a good idea to me.
“I don’t know if they’ll ever be interested in the Bolender ‘Nutcracker,’ but I have this monstrous amount of information in my brain that hopefully will come in handy again some day.
“‘The Nutcracker’ has certainly been an enriching part of my life, and I feel like I’ve enriched the lives of so many children and families through the years.
“And that’s a great gift that Todd left for all of us, that we’ve had his ‘Nutcracker’ to share with Kansas City for most of December every year.”
If Christmas music just isn’t your bag, baby, Chris Botti has a concert for you.
The Grammy-winning trumpeter will perform Friday night at Yardley Hall, and he promises there won’t be any frosty snowmen or red-nosed reindeer.
“I really think that the musical landscape in December is just loaded with people playing Christmas stuff, and if people want to do that, that’s a fantastic thing to do,” Botti said. “But our forte is to bring to town something that is uniquely ours and to have people leave the concert saying ‘Wow, I didn’t think it was going to be like that.’
“Every artist and his mother is going around the country with a Christmas tour, and I made a conscious decision a few years ago to not be one of those in that long list. So we tour nonstop, but we stay away from the obvious ringing of the Christmas bells.”
Maybe no bells, but lots of good vibes. Botti is known for putting on a crowd-pleasing show. Being the popular crossover artist he is, Botti plays a little bit of everything, from classical to jazz.
“The stuff I play is lyrical, crossover classical music,” he said. “We’re not rolling into town playing the (Franz Joseph) Haydn trumpet concerto. Nor would I want to. But I play my instrument in a bel canto style and deliver the trumpet in a very singing sort of way that’s very classically infused.
“In a nutshell, we play all of the beautiful stuff that we’re kind of known for on record, but then we rock out when we need to and some esoteric jazz things come into play when they need to as well.”
The Kansas City Symphony’s associate conductor, Aram Demirjian, has the honors this year of conducting George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”
The Kansas City Symphony and the Kansas City Symphony Chorus, directed by Charles Bruffy, will be joined by the Independence Messiah Choir for Handel’s Christmas classic for three performances beginning this Friday.
This will be the 98th year the Independence Messiah Choir has performed “Messiah,” and it’s remarkable that this annual performance is as popular as ever. Audiences can’t seem to get enough of Handel’s sublime inspiration. Tickets are going fast for all performances, so don’t tarry to get yours.
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, and Saturday, Dec. 7. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center. The 2 p.m. performance Sunday, Dec. 7, is nearly sold out (call 816-471-0400 for specific information about this date). More information on tickets at www.kcsymphony.org.
Heartland Men’s Chorus
The Heartland Men’s Chorus knows how to put on a Christmas concert. Somehow it always manages to find a perfect mix of reverential traditional favorites and campy Christmas fabulousness.
This year, the chorus led by artistic director Dustin Cates will perform selections from Handel’s “Messiah” and carols arranged by five local composers. And it wouldn’t be a Heartland Men’s Chorus Christmas without lots of celebrity guests dropping in.
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, and Saturday, Dec. 6, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $15-$67. hmkc.org.
Musica Sacra, conducted by Timothy McDonald, will present its Christmas concert Friday at St. Francis Xavier Church.
The program will feature music by Leonardo Leo, a composer who wrote for the Royal Chapel of Naples.
He’s certainly not the most famous baroque composer, but Leo wrote some gorgeous music that deserves to be heard. Musica Sacra will give his Magnificat its first-ever performance in Kansas City, according to McDonald.
A selection of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s festive organ sonatas will also be performed and, of course, lots of traditional carols. You can sing along, if you want. And don’t forget about McDonald’s “live program notes” at 6:15 p.m.
Friday, December 5, 2014 @ 7 p.m.Musica Sacra presents a regional premiere of a marvelous setting of the Magnificat, the canticle of Mary, by Neapolitan composer Leonardo Leo. Famous for his operas, Leo also wrote a significant body of sacred works for the Real Cappella di Napoli, the royal chapel. The concert also features Church Sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Traditional carols welcome the festive season.
7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5. St. Francis Xavier Church, 52nd Street and Troost Avenue. $12-$18, 816-235-6222, www.rockhurst.edu/mstickets or at the door.
“I Due Foscari”
What’s better than one Foscari? How about two Foscaris? The Tivoli Cinemas will present a live HD broadcast of Giuseppe Verdi’s rarely seen “I Due Foscari” starring Placido Domingo on Wednesday and Dec. 7. The Royal Opera House captures the lushness of the 15th century Venetian court in this acclaimed production of one of Verdi’s darkest but most powerful operas.
1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, and Sunday, Dec. 7. Tivoli Cinemas in Westport, 4050 Pennsylvania Ave. $10-$15. 816-561-5222 or tivolikc.com.