Dance Company Making Room for New Programming
By Sara MacNeil
Keshet Dance Company is closing its trademark production “Nutcracker on the Rocks” this year to make room for additional programming.
“Nutcracker on the Rocks” isn’t only special for being a boisterous contemporary interpretation of “The Nutcracker,” but also for being a production that has created a diverse community during its 20-year run.
The performance featured dancers of all ages, professional and non-professional performers, and included children with disabilities, ensuring everyone and anyone who wanted to be involved had a part. “Nutcracker on the Rocks” was a community collaborative project that reflects Keshet’s belief that anyone can dance.
Vladimir Conde Reche has danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince in “Nutcracker on the Rocks” for seven years. This year, he’s sharing the role and dancing 10 of the 18 performances.
Conde Reche has danced with many different performers during his time in the production, as various dancers have moved in and out of the role of Marie and the Rat Queen.
“The structure has stayed the same, what changed was the people performing,” he said. “The cast changes and people bring something different,” he said, adding that a mix of dancers at different levels allows for unexpected surprises.
“Nutcracker on the Rocks” increased from 13 dancers in its first production to 130 to 140 dancers in the current production. Anyone who auditioned could participate if they could commit to the professional rehearsal schedule.
Although the rehearsal structure was a big commitment, many dancers participated in the production year after year. Children who started when they were young moved their way up through roles, becoming principal dancers in the show.
Elysia Pope performed in “Nutcracker on the Rocks” from the age of six to 17. Pope performed every role in the show, even dancing as the Nutcracker Prince during a rehearsal. The one character Pope has never played was protagonist Marie, which she wasn’t particularly interested in.
“I like being the villain. I’m good at it,” she said.
Pope played the evil Rat Queen her senior year of high school in her last performance in the production.
After she retired from the show, Pope was called back in 2013 to play Madam Drosselmeyer, the magician who brings the Nutcracker to life. Pope received a telephone call on opening night, three hours before the curtain would open.
“I had to rely on muscle memory and all of my years doing the show to soak back in within a couple of hours,” she said.
Pope performed Drosselmeyer in every show that run of the production. She will play Drosselmeyer again, as well as the Rat Queen, in this year’s “Nutcracker on the Rocks.”
“It’s really exciting to perform again with the company that built me up into the dancer that I am today,” she said. “‘Nutcracker on the Rocks’ holds a special place in my heart, but I’m excited to see what direction Shira will take the company next.”
Shira Greenberg, Keshet founder and artistic director, said she created “Nutcracker on the Rocks” to introduce the company to Albuquerque. Now that Keshet has created a significant community here, she said it was time to pursue new creative endeavors.
“We’re working on engaging people all year long, rather than one event here and one event there,” Greenberg said.
Keshet is launching an international dance festival next year, as well as touring its performance company nationally and internationally. The company is taking a program that works with incarcerated youth in detention centers to five pilot cities as well.
“As a company grows some of the core values can get buried in the pursuit of growing programs and productions,” Greenberg said. “I’m proud that even as the company grows, our philosophy of openness doesn’t disappear,” she said.
For more information, and to buy tickets for “Nutcracker on the Rocks,” click here.
Sara MacNeil is an editorial intern for the ABQ Free Press Weekly.