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What Do You Think of When You Hear the Word ‘Christmas’?

Morgan Buchanan in Colorado Ballet's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Mike Watson

When I think of the word ‘Christmas,’ I imagine a little girl, some mice, a sugarplum fairy, some tin soldiers, the evil mouse king, and the beloved wooden nutcracker.

Perhaps you’ve seen the ballet, but have you ever paused to think about how much effort it takes to put on “The Nutcracker,” with all of the special effects?

Colorado Ballet, under the supervision of Artistic Director Gil Boggs, pays attention to a lot of details, from costumes and props to special effects.

When you see the grandfather clock from the audience, you won’t see the person hidden inside (which makes me think of Kenny Baker inside of R2-D2) who lifts the owl’s wings and lights the eyes in time with chiming coming from the live orchestra in the pit below.

When you see the explosion and the nutcracker gains life, you don’t see the certified pyrotechnician who loads the gunpowder and presses the button at every show to detonate it.
KABOOM!

You never see all the work that goes into making the magic, which is how magic works.

Of course, since this is a live performance and anything could happen, you might also see a bear (actually a costumed dancer) falling into the orchestra pit, which happened during an opening night a few years ago.

You also might not see the quick action that saves the day: Another time, it was almost Mother Ginger’s turn, as Mr. Boggs told me:
“A couple of years ago in a performance, somehow (the people steering her) lost the dotted line, and Mother Ginger turned toward the audience, and was headed for the orchestra pit.

“Drosselmeyer just happened to appear in the scene and help her off the stage the right way.”

Most nights, of course. all these intricate pieces come together perfectly and the show comes off gloriously.

One of the most memorable effects in “the Nutcracker” is the “snow,” which actually consists of small pieces of paper dropped from a slotted sheet overhead by pulling ropes backstage.

Colorado Ballet uses about 100 pounds of snow per performance.

On closing night, they make sure to release every last scrap of snow in a blizzard, making it hard to see the dancers.

However, once the first act is over, the crew and dancers’ kids are allowed to come on stage and play in the snow behind the curtains for a few minutes before the stage gets cleaned up.

If Colorado Ballet’s Nutcracker is in your holiday plans -- and I highly recommend it should be -- remember that Gil Boggs and company worked hard to transform anything you see, and everything you don’t, into a Christmas classic.

“The Nutcracker” is running now through December 27th at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Tickets start at $30 and are available at the DCPA box office or online at ColoradoBallet.org.

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