The holidays and The Nutcracker go together like Santa and cookies. But what happens when a pandemic cancels live performances for more than a year and you can’t produce your traditional holiday show? If you’re Nadia Letnauchyn, Founder and Director of MidAtlantic Youth Ballet (MYB), you put years of knowledge producing the annual ballet into a bag, sprinkle it with Old Bay and Domino Sugar, and start shaking.

The result: an original interpretation of the traditional tale — with distinctive Maryland flavor.

When COVID shut down live performances last year, Nadia was forced to reimagine what it means to produce a ballet production — especially since the organization didn’t have access to the long-standing performance venue, including the scenic backdrops and props they had used for the past fourteen years.

Adapting the show to a virtual venue gave her creative freedom (or maybe a creative push!) to rethink how the story was told.

 

“We re-imagined not only how to exhibit our performances for an audience, but also how to update a Christmas classic to be relevant to our community,” said Nadia. “The resulting premiere of MYB’s “Unmistakably Maryland “Nutcracker” features regional landmarks, local icons and culture unique to Maryland.”

It started with changing the setting. MYB’s production takes audience members on a journey from Pimlico to 34th Street in Hampden to the Ocean City Boardwalk. Clara doesn’t encounter the traditional characters in MYB’s production; she meets Poe’s Raven, battles Hon Rats with towering beehive hair, and watches tiny crabs wiggle under the watchful eye of bathing beauties (a nod to Baltimore’s own Fluid Movement ballet). And the entire stage is bathed in Maryland’s state colors when the Black-Eyed Susans take the stage.

Presented with the classic Tchaikovsky score, Nadia also used this new approach as an opportunity to present the Act II divertissements in fresh and culturally-sensitive ways.

“Traditionally, the Nutcracker often depicts the ‘Chinese Tea,’ ‘Arabian Coffee,’ and ‘Russian Candy Canes’ Act II divertissements with caricatures and stereotypes that are culturally appropriating in nature and in ways that could be offensive,” said Nadia. “Rather than portraying Caucasian dancers in “yellowface,” dancing with protruding index fingers, our choreography, costumes and props connect this divertissement to the boardwalk kite shop, as dancers move with dragon kites (dragons are sacred in Chinese culture) and fans. Similarly, the Arabian dance is presented as a nod to Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ as the dancers take flight in flowing black gowns and feathers, instead of the objectified depiction of Arabian women through revealing costuming and sultry movement. Finally, rather than costuming the Russian dancers in layers of fur and brightly colored clothing, the vibrant music sets the tone for a Baltimore baseball game, ending with a heart-racing tag out at home plate.”

Last year’s performance was produced via video, safely filming small scenes and editing them for streaming. This year, MidAtlantic Youth Ballet is thrilled to bring the original production — including a cast of 100 children — LIVE to the stage at Towson University. Seeing her creative vision come to life is not only a celebration of live art performances returning to Baltimore for Nadia; it celebrates MYB’s 15th season for bringing unique ballet experiences to our community.

“For the first time in nearly two years, we will return to the Stephens Hall stage at Towson University where MYB performed its first Nutcracker fifteen years ago, this time with a new and Unmistakably Maryland version of this holiday classic. All of us at MYB are anxiously awaiting what is sure to be an emotional return to our home stage as we celebrate this milestone,” said Nadia.

Performances are December 4th and 5th at Towson University. Tickets are $15-$30. To purchase tickets, visit Towson University’s Website.

Editor’s Note: This article was created in partnership for with MidAtlantic Youth Ballet for our 2021 Charmed Holidays Guide. Photographed at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photos by Jen Snyder.