Arts & Culture

KC Ballet’s ‘Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker’ just one of many classical holiday treats

Kansas City Ballet’s “Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker” on Dec. 12 will have slight alterations from the original version, said artistic director Devon Carney.
Kansas City Ballet’s “Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker” on Dec. 12 will have slight alterations from the original version, said artistic director Devon Carney. Kansas City Ballet

The Kansas City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is (at times literally) an explosion of color, special effects and spectacular music and dance.

While a treat for most kids, there are children for whom this sensory excess can be overwhelming. So the ballet is making the show accessible for children with autism and Down Syndrome with a “Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker” on Dec. 12 at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

Devon Carney, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet, says he was taking part in these sorts of productions more than 30 years ago with the Boston Ballet.

“They didn’t call it ‘Sensory-Friendly’ back then. They called it a ‘Special Needs Dress Rehearsal.’” Carney recalled. “It was an opportunity for hospitals to bring a variety of children who were suffering with cancer or who were autistic, had Down Syndrome or otherwise were not able to get out to see performances.”

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“The Nutcracker” is full of color and costumes. Kansas City Ballet

The experience made a profound impact on Carney, who has now helped tweak his own “Nutcracker” to make it a holiday treat for more children.

It all begins with an e-mail sent to ticket holders that has photos of the parking lot, the parking space, entrance to the Kauffman Center, the escalator into the center, the seats, the stage. Every aspect of the performance and every scene of the show is previewed so that a child can become familiar with an unfamiliar environment.

Regarding the ballet, Carney says he hasn’t had to change too many things.

“When the curtain goes up, some of the music might be played a little bit softer,” he said. “There’s one scene in the show, the battle scene, where a mouse gets shot by a soldier and the mouse screams really, really loud. So we’re not going to have them scream. We’re just going to have them act out that moment.”

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A scene from Kansas City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Kansas City Ballet

Carney says that darkness can be scary for kids, so the house lights will be at half brightness. There also will be quiet spaces with no stimuli that children can retreat to if needed.

“Another cool part of this is there’s going to be life-skill training done for older Down Syndrome and autistic kids,” Carney said. “They’re going to assist the ushers handing out programs. During intermission we will have characters out in the lobby and some of the dancers will come out in costume, as I did when I was 22 years old, and say hi to the kids.

“My experience with Boston Ballet was a real eye-opener for me because when you grow up completely healthy, you can’t even understand the kind of things that kids and families go through when they’re dealing with certain types of conditions. It gave me an appreciation for humanity in all its beautiful aspects.”

The special performance is just one of many inclusive arts efforts in the city, including a playground the Kansas City Zoo that opened in May and a tactile experience for the visually impaired at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

6 p.m. Dec. 12. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25. 816-931-8993 or www.kcballet.org.

Joyce DiDonato and Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Joyce DiDonato is bringing along a special friend for her recital Dec. 13 at the Folly Theater. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who will accompany DiDonato at the keyboard, was just in town in September conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Now he and DiDonato will perform one of the most monumental art song cycles ever composed.

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Prairie Village-born mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato will present a recital with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Simon Pauly

“Winterreise” (Winter’s Journey), based on poems by Wilhelm Müller, was written toward the end of Schubert’s life and makes the pianist as important as the vocalist. It’s a demanding, melancholy song cycle, but it’s also one of the greatest works of classical music. Schubert’s friend Joseph von Spaun wrote about visiting Schubert while he was composing “Winterreise.”

“We see him practically gasping with fearful joy over his tragic ‘Winterreise’ — at his luck in the subject, at the beauty of the chance which brought him his collaborator back, at the countless fresh images provoked by his poetry of fire and snow, of torrent and ice, of scalding and frozen tears. The composer of the ‘Winterreise’ may have gone hungry to bed, but he was a happy artist.”

7:30 p.m. Dec.13. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $36.50-$91.50. 816-415-5025 or www.hjseries.org.

‘Christmas 1968’

The Grammy-winning Kansas City Chorale will present the musical equivalent of an aluminum Christmas tree in three shows at three venues.

“Christmas 1968” will draw on events and music from 50 years ago, like the crew of Apollo 8’s Christmas Eve reading from Genesis and the television classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church, 9300 Nall Ave., Overland Park. 2 p.m. Dec. 16 at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at the 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. $10-$30.

KC Symphony’s Christmas Festival

The Kansas City Symphony’s “Christmas Festival” is a Christmas stocking filled to the brim with holiday treats. The annual concert has something to please everyone, whether it’s traditional carols or jazzed up renditions of holiday favorites.

This year, the Kansas City Symphony led by associate conductor Jason Seber will be joined by the Kansas City Symphony Chorus, Rezound! Handbell Ensemble, the Allegro Choirs of Kansas City and vocalist Vanessa Thomas.

7 p.m. Dec. 14-18, 1 p.m. Dec. 15 and 2 p.m. Dec. 16. $15-$95. 816-471-0400 or www.kcsymphony.org.

Candlelight, Carols and Cathedral

The William Baker Festival Singers’ annual Candlelight, Carols and Cathedral concert is a Christmas card come to life. Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral is even more lovely than usual illuminated by candles and the Festival Singers’ program of traditional and well-loved carols adds to the warmth.

2 p.m. Dec. 16. Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. $5-$50. https://tinyurl.com/ybpf7l84.

Ensemble Iberica brings the Celtic

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Ensemble Iberica Submitted

Galicia, the region of northwest Spain, has strong Celtic roots. Beau Bledsoe’s Ensemble Iberica is going to bring that culture to life in “Road to Galicia.” Special guests will play instruments popular in the region like the hurdy-gurdy, hammered dulcimer and bagpipes, and there will also be a selection of ancient Galician Christmas carols.

8 p.m. Dec. 14. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 11 E. 40th St. $25. 816-471-5107 or www.ensembleiberica.org.

A Fountain City Brass holiday

The Fountain City Brass is going to fill the Bell Cultural Events Center with a glorious, brassy sound when it presents “Home for the Holidays” on Dec. 15. The 30-piece ensemble was named the 2018 American Brass Band Champions, and its Christmas concert is eagerly anticipated by its many local fans.

7 p.m. Dec. 15. Bell Cultural Events Center, 2030 E. College Way, Olathe. $5-$20. https://tinyurl.com/y7x9m759.

Lunchtime organ show

If you’re in the Westport or Midtown areas on Dec. 14, take a break and enjoy “Sounds of the Season” with organist Jan Kraybill. This free, lunch-time concert is presented by the Westport Center for the Arts. The church’s serene atmosphere is itself a great escape, and to hear Kraybill, one of the area’s finest organists, play the church’s gorgeous 2016 Martin Pasi tracker organ, is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

12:10 p.m. Dec. 14. Westport Presbyterian Church, 201 Westport Road. Free. For more information, visit www.wcakc.org.

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.

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