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Introducing Many Firsts to the Longstanding Holiday Tradition of The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker in Greater Des Moines (DSM) in 2021

November 24, 2021

This year, Ballet Des Moines will usher in its nineteenth production of The Nutcracker, although in many ways it is a first. As the newly appointed artistic director of Ballet Des Moines, it is my sincere honor to share our work with you.

Most everyone is familiar with the classical holiday story: young Clara is swept through dreamland one Christmas Eve, witnessing an epic battle and meeting a bevy of characters along the way including the glittering Sugar Plum Fairy. For more than 120 years, The Nutcracker has been met with applause for its ability to usher in the holidays and critique for its perpetuation of unfavorable cultural stereotypes. This year, Ballet Des Moines is excited to introduce a brand-new Nutcracker, with a reimagined Act Two. Instead of visiting countries through the Land of Sweets, Clara’s dream will introduce us to a cast of new characters: the fluttering Betta Splendens gets carried away by currents, the Royal Stag and his doe gracefully leap across the stage and even Mother Ginger makes way for a greater, grander presence: Mother Earth. Sarah Dornink

Image: Sarah Dornink joins the staff at Ballet Des Moines this year as wardrobe director, putting her years of fashion design into vibrant new costumes for The Nutcracker

While Greater Des Moines (DSM) is blessed to have many Nutcracker productions this winter, Ballet Des Moines’ performances are not only the most intriguing, but also the only professional performances of this beloved ballet. Ballet Des Moines is Iowa’s resident ballet company, and these artists have trained their whole lives to create meaningful art and share it with an audience. Our company of dancers hail from coast to coast, and have come to DSM to dedicate themselves to the art form full time. Dancing is their livelihood, and as such, they rehearse tirelessly to bring the grace and precision of classical ballet to our community. For The Nutcracker, each performance will also feature two guest artists, performing as the Royal Stag and Doe.

Set for Two DSM Stages

After missing last year’s production due to the pandemic, these professionals are buzzing with anticipation for the opportunity to perform this magical production for our community. And this year, we’ve brought the production to a second stage, which enables us to offer seven performances to the public over two weekends: December 10-12 at Hoyt Sherman Place and December 17-18 at the Staplin Performing Arts Center in West Des Moines.

Amelia and Cam

Image: Ballet Des Moines professional resident dancers Amelia Hillman and Cameron Miller

Community Participation

But what’s truly beautiful about the magic of The Nutcracker, is seeing it through the eyes of the youngest of dancers. More than 100 children from over 30 dance studios in the region have been rehearsing since October to create this ballet. From Bumblebees to Party Boys and Dragonflies to Flowers, these young dancers will take the stage for perhaps the first time. As they look out into a sea of parents, grandparents, family and friends in the audience, they will experience the exhilaration that can only be felt by standing in those bright lights on stage. We are truly honored to be able to offer this opportunity to so many young artists as they rehearse and perform alongside our professional ballet dancers.

We’re excited this year to once again offer school-aged children in grades 3-6 the opportunity to visit theaters for an in-person school show. This year, Ballet Des Moines has partnered with CultureALL to create Storytelling Through the Art of Dance: an educational performance highlighting cultural expressions of celebration, family and storytelling. Students will see hula from the Polynesian Islands, learn about the traditional Japanese storytelling and will watch an excerpt of The Nutcracker to round out their experience. Though the in-person opportunity is aimed at students in DSM, Ballet Des Moines is thrilled to provide a digital option of online viewing and discussion guides to allow classrooms across the state the opportunity to bring the magic of dance into their schools this December. CultureAll Logo

Image: CultureALL logo

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t share what this production of The Nutcracker means to me personally. For many, The Nutcracker is their first introduction to ballet. As a dancer, I took great pride in being present for that moment and it motivated me to dance my best in show after show. As artistic director of Ballet Des Moines, I have a greater opportunity to shape how this beloved ballet is presented to the public. It is a responsibility, but also an immense privilege, one that I accept wholeheartedly. For the art of ballet to flourish, we must continue to adapt with the times. This brand-new production does just that while maintaining a nod to tradition. Purists will still be enchanted by a whirling Snow Scene, a grand Waltz of the Flowers and a glittering Sugar Plum Fairy. I believe our production of The Nutcracker is the best of both worlds and I cannot wait to share it with you!

Named the #1 Best Place to Live in the Midwest and #2 Safest Place to Live, Greater Des Moines (DSM) is a city where you can have it all. Learn more about what it’s like to live here.

Tom Mattingly

Originally from California's Mojave Desert, Tom Mattingly is a retired dancer, passionate teacher, choreographer and coach. Most recently serving as ballet master with Madison Ballet, Tom Mattingly takes over the reins as artistic director for Ballet Des Moines this month.