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Ballet Fantastique Creates a New Holiday Tradition With "Babes in Toyland"

Ballet Fantastique's Tracy Fuller and Gustavo Ramirez in Babes in Toyland. Photo by Bob Williams and Stephanie Urso, Courtesy BF.

Eugene, Oregon–based Ballet Fantastique debuts a forgotten holiday classic December 14–16. Babes in Toyland, co-choreographed and produced by mother-daughter duo and company directors Hannah and Donna Bontrager, pulls from source material ranging from Victor Herbert's original 1903 operetta to Disney's 1961 film. "We watched all the movies and read as many different versions of the story as we could find," says Hannah. The pair distilled the elements they liked best to create their own amalgamated plot. "The story is filled with joviality and lovable, familiar storybook characters," adds Donna. The cast also pays homage to the world's best-known holiday ballet, The Nutcracker. "We've added a character called Mother Gingerbread, and some gingerbread kids," says Hannah.



Donna, who also designed the costumes and sets, drew inspiration from the lavish, Technicolor world of 1950s and '60s Hollywood. "It has this soft nostalgia," she says. The ballet will be set to a custom big-band score, including pieces from Duke Ellington's jazzy Nutcracker, performed live by the Swing Shift Jazz Orchestra. The production features Ballet Fantastique's 17 dancers, as well as 20 students from the company's academy. "This has the potential to bring that holiday sense of community and wonder to our audience," says Hannah.

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

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Site Network
Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

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Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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