This holiday season, Ventana Ballet will present its debut performance, a new, interactive, re-imagined version of The Nutcracker called The Watchmaker’s Song. For producers AJ Garcia-Rameau and Dorothy O’Shea Overbey, it’s a project that’s been a long time coming.
“As ballet dancers, we have done Nutcracker every year since we were seven or eight years old,” says Overbey. “It’s such a part of who we are. I grew up here in Austin, and ever since I was a teenager, I’ve kind of wanted to make a “Keep Austin Weird” Nutcracker. AJ Had a similar vision, so here we are.”
To create a new and different take on the traditional ballet, Garcia-Rameau and Overbey pulled together a large cast of dancers and musicians. “This production is a conglomerate of different artists, both music and dance,” says Garcia-Rameau. “And also some cultural dance mixed in, along with some ballet.”
One key difference in this version of The Nutcracker is that it’s taking its cues not just from the Tchaikovsky ballet but also from the original story on which that ballet was based. “[We’re] not really changing the story, but we’re taking some influences from the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story of The Nutcracker, which is different from what’s usually performed,” says Overbey. “The ballet is only a section of the story – the book itself has a lot of backstory, and the book is more complex.”
In fact the title of Ventana’s piece comes not from the original ballet but from the Hoffman story. “It’s called The Watchmaker’s Song, and that’s a reference from inside the book,” Overbey says. “The book is wilder and crazier and has more interesting kind of political commentary in it.”
They’re also making the performance much more interactive than is traditional. “It’s kind of a tried and true tradition to go to the theater and see The Nutcracker be performed on stage, where act one is a party,” says Garcia-Rameau. “Instead of watching the party scene, we’re actually going to be throwing a party on the lawn of the Neil-Cochran House Museum.” During the lawn party, there will be music and pop-up ballet performances; the audience will then enter the museum for act two.
The second act of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker hasn’t aged quite as well as the first. “Traditionally in The Nutcracker, the second act is full of these things called divertissements… and originally it was from these different countries,” says Overbey. “A lot of times… there’s been some kind of cultural stereotyping. Instead of doing that, we’ve invited representatives from the actual cultures and traditions to do their real, authentic dance. So we’re very pleased to be working with people doing traditional Chinese dance and traditional belly dance and things like that.”