Vaunted “Nutcracker” Still Shines

Photo by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune Leigh Anne Albrechta and Jordan Martin (standing) with Marta Kelly, Erica De La O and Annie Honebrink Krieger (sitting) share the role of Maria in Brown-Forman’s “The Nutcracker.” Photo by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune

Photo by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune
Leigh Anne Albrechta and Jordan Martin (standing) with Marta Kelly, Erica De La O and Annie Honebrink Krieger (sitting) share the role of Maria in Brown-Forman’s “The Nutcracker.” Photo by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune

By IGOR GURYASHKIN
Staff Writer

Everyone has their holiday traditions – whether it’s gathering at a particular family member’s home, venturing to see the illuminations of Light Up Louisville or shopping for the same stocking filler – everyone has at least one or two. But with every passing  year, more and more people have another activity firmly pencilled into their calendars during the holiday season – the iconic ballet of “The Nutcracker.”

Running from Dec. 6-21 at the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall, “The Nutcracker” presented by Brown-Forman and performed by The Louisville Ballet, has become an annual fixture in many people’s lives; rekindling memories, making new ones and acting as many people’s introduction to ballet. This year the lead role of Maria, the young girl who travels through the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy alongside the Nutcracker prince is being alternated between five company dancers, one of whom is a veteran of The Louisville Ballet, Erica De La O.

For a dancer of De La O’s experience, The Nutcracker is a chance to revisit an old favorite, all while still finding new terrain on which to be creative.

“You don’t really get tired of it (performing “The Nutcracker”),” explains De La O, who has been with the Louisville Ballet since 2003. “I think for a dancer, or at least for myself it feels different (to other jobs) because there is a very short relationship with ballet. There is a death time date for it, whether I like it or not – the years are very short and when it’s over it’s gone. A musician can pick up an instrument when they’re old and still play but for a dancer your time is limited. So while it’s a real privilege to be in a ballet company, at all, a dancer feels very lucky if she can remain consistently healthy, and enjoy real longevity.”

And even after spending over a decade in Louisville, and performing Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet since she was a child, for De Le O it never gets old.

“I blinked and it’s now 2014,” laughs De La O. “I came to Louisville a long time ago and always wanted to be in a place where I could keep learning and keep expanding as an artist. I have been doing “The Nutcracker” since I was 8-years-old, when I was a bon bon. But I have gone through every role since, I guess I am aging myself now!”

“As a child you always looked forward to it, but there are still elements of “The Nutcracker” that are still some of the most difficult (in ballet) and some of the most breathless and that you don’t mind returning to over and over. But there are also so many different versions of “The Nutcracker” out there that they constantly give you a new perspective on it … so as a dancer you have to keep digging and find  new things in each character.”

But one aspect that De La O and her fellow dancers unquestionably get to revel in is the fact that they get to dance during the nightly festivities that usher in the holiday season, especially as a chance to introduce so many people to the wonder of ballet, whether they are young or old.

“It’s always been a part of my tradition to either go to The Nutcracker or to perform in it so it’s certainly a tradition of mine,” quips De La O. “I think The Nutcracker has turned into a huge tradition here in Louisville for the family. For kids it’s fun, and for adults it’s good to remember the childlike aspect in all of us – a chance to look into a little girl’s dream.”

“But it’s probably a lot of people’s first introduction to ballet. The choreography asks us to flow for the parents, and flow for the children. The elements of the ballet are entertaining and funny and it’s like a good cartoon movie for the family. There are certain ballets where kids are enamored by the dancing and the music and they’re laughing and they’re giggling and it’s really cool to get that out of kids so when you can hear laughter on the stage, you know it’s loud. There are certainly ballets that get that reaction and The Nutcracker is one of them.”

Brown Forman’s The Nutcracker will be performed between Dec. 6-21 at the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall. Tickets start at $32.00. For more information visit visit www.kentuckycenter.org or call the box office at 1.800.775.7777.