Most of us cringe at the thought of Christmas this far out.
Upon the first sighting of chocolate Santas in Wal-Marts, for example, many are prone to posting on Facebook, “Yargh! Christmas stuff already?!? It’s not even Labour Day in New Zealand!”
(Bonus points if you knew Labour Day in New Zealand is Oct. 24.)
The Kansas City Ballet, however, has been working on this year’s production of “The Nutcracker” since September. Opening night is Dec. 3.
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By the time I made it around to rehearsals a couple of weeks ago, artistic director Devon Carney said the ballet had already hosted four days of hundreds of student auditions for the 213 available slots for the kiddos.
“That was exciting,” he said.
On the day I visited, company dancers worked on “Waltz of the Flowers” from Act 2. If that title doesn’t ring a bell with you, it’s the same music used in the synchronized swimming scene in “Caddyshack.”
This particular section hadn’t been fully staged. Carney wanted to make changes, and some performers offered their own takes.
“I just broke into some hip-hop for fun,” said Miranda Dafoe, one of the dancers with the ballet’s emerging performers program, KCBII. “We were joking that maybe Devon would come in and like one of our moves.”
(Sadly, her improvisation didn’t make the cut.)
This will be the second year for Carney’s “Nutcracker.” The Kansas City Ballet completely retooled its old holiday chestnut in 2015.
“The one thing that’s wonderful about this year is that I don’t have to make it,” Carney said, laughing.
He said there are a few things in the production that, in retrospect, he wondered why he did.
“It’s kind of like creating this beautiful piece of furniture and maybe getting a piece of 120-grit sandpaper on it the first year,” he said. “I want to get to 600-grit this year and really clean up a lot of rough edges that a lot of people wouldn’t notice, but that I certainly notice.”
This year's cast will feature some dancers from last year and some new blood. The average age is 24, which means quite a few of them are young enough that they will be voting in their first presidential election come November.
Now, if you’ve never been to a ballet rehearsal, I can testify it looks a little like Chiefs preseason football practice. The ballet, however, is much less boring, and the performers are in incredible shape.
Seriously, one should not venture into the Todd Bolender Center without a solid acceptance of one’s body. These folks are fit.
Most of the dancers also need to know most of the parts. Casting won’t be final until a couple of weeks before performances begin. And, as injuries and illnesses occur, dancers need to be ready to jump in at a moment’s notice.
“Last year I learned 12 different parts, and I think I ended up performing eight of them,” said Taryn Mejia, a company dancer and Kansas City native. “We have to be able to know it because one day someone will be sick or he will say, ‘Hey, you go in.’ ”
As trains rumbled past in the Union Station train yard and traffic whirred overhead on the Broadway Bridge, the company worked for an hour on what would last all of 30 seconds onstage.
From an outsider’s perspective, it looked pretty rough at first. Some dancers missed steps, others occasionally went the wrong way. Several performers at times scrunched up their faces in frustration. Most broke a sweat or tried to catch their breath.
Once the accompanist began playing the music, however, everything improbably, impossibly, snapped into place.
Steps that had stopped and stuttered for the previous 60 minutes flowed from one to the other. It was such a transformation that it seemed altogether unreal.
But it was just another day at the office for the dancers.
“We do six hours of rehearsal plus class for an hour and a half each day, so seven-and-a-half hours of dancing every day,” Mejia said. “It’s a good job.”
The Kansas City Ballet’s production of the holiday classic will run Dec. 3-24 at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. For more information see KCBallet.org.