A beloved Atlanta family holiday tradition for more than five decades returns to Midtown this week.
Atlanta Ballet will give new meaning to “the magic of the holidays” this season as Artistic Director John McFall has added illusionist Drew Thomas into the mix for the 53rd production of Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker. It opens Friday and runs through Dec. 26 at the Fox Theatre.
The whimsical holiday tale that follows young Marya’s unbelievable adventure with her handsome Nutcracker Prince will now have even more thrills and surprises as Thomas deftly introduces new illusions and special effects.
Since recreating Nutcracker in 1995, McFall has updated the production every year to keep it vibrant and fresh. The holiday tale takes 20 pounds of snow, eight tons of scenery, lighting, and props, and a 38-foot-tall Christmas tree to make the magic of Marya’s unbelievable story come to life.
This year McFall has completely reimagined Act 1, including the famous “party scene,” with new choreography, new characters and, of course, more magic. McFall has also invited the students from the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company back after a three-year hiatus to perform the “Chinese variation” in Act 2.
Atlanta Ballet first brought Nutcracker to the stage in 1959, performing George Balanchine’s version of the timeless tale. In that year, Atlanta Ballet was the only company outside of New York City Ballet allowed to perform this signature piece thanks to Atlanta Ballet’s then Associate Artistic Director Robert Barnett, who had danced with Balanchine at New York City Ballet.
“We gave it as a gift,” said Barnett, “inviting children from all counties to come in and see the performance. It was a gift from Mr. Balanchine, and he never charged us a cent for doing it.”
From that day forward, Nutcracker has been an annual event in Atlanta. McFall’s vision to update the production yearly was to create a Nutcracker that was “traditional yet new, familiar yet different, classic yet contemporary and above all magical.”
"We’ve become a holiday tradition for many families in Atlanta,” said McFall in a press release. “It’s an honor, but also a great responsibility. Each year we want to make sure we preserve the tradition, but also keep the magic and the mystery alive. We are thoughtful about each change we make and confident that it will ultimately make for a more enchanting experience."
Thomas actually began his professional career with McFall more than 20 years ago. McFall, who was then artistic director at Columbus, Ohio’s Ballet Met, gave Thomas his first gig right out of high school, commissioning him to create the magic for the company’s Nutcracker.
Thomas was most recently a finalist on NBC’s hit reality-TV series “America’s Got Talent,” becoming one of the show’s most popular acts. He has now reunited with McFall to pull even more tricks and surprises out of Herr Drosselmeyer’s magic bag.
What won’t change in this year’s production is the appearance of more than 250 Atlanta area school children performing alongside the professional company, which will be the first chance for many of them to experience the magic of being on the Fox Theatre stage. The Atlanta Ballet Orchestra and the Georgia Youth Choir will also return for all performances.
Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker runs for 20 performances Dec. 7 – 26 and tickets start as low as $20 and are on sale now. Tickets can be purchased by phone at 855-ATL-TIXX, in person at the Fox Theatre Box Office and the Atlanta Ballet Box Office, or online at www.atlantaballet.com. For groups of ten or more, call Atlanta Ballet Group Sales at 404-873-5811 x 207.
Run time is approximately 2 hours, including a 25-minute intermission. Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker is sponsored by Belk, Inc.