Artists of Wonderbound in "Snow." Photo by Amanda Tipton, Courtesy Wonderbound.

These Two Immersive Holiday Ballets Give Audiences a Multi-Sensory, 3-D Experience

As a student in a pre-professional ballet school, one of the best parts of performing in company productions was getting to be in the midst of the action with the company dancers. In Nutcracker, for example—between my all-important moments of dancing glory (the two minute children's dance)—I'd eavesdrop on the party parents' conversations and (sometimes PG-13) jokes.

Even with the hazards of sweat flung from a pirouetting dancer's forehead, I often feel that audience members are missing out—watching a ballet from the front is rarely so intimate.

It seems I'm not alone in this thought. Two regional companies are looking to shake up the performance format with their immersive winter productions. With live music, cocktails, puppetry and up-close and personal party access, American Contemporary Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite and Wonderbound's Snow are sure to pique new interest.


American Contemporary Ballet's Sarah Bukowski as Marzipan. Photo by Art Lessman, Courtesy ACB.

American Contemporary Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite

American Contemporary Ballet, now in its seventh season, is premiering its unique Nutcracker production this year. Artistic director Lincoln Jones was initially reluctant to do a party scene. "For audiences today, especially audiences in Los Angeles where they don't really grow up with ballet," he says, party scene's "over-large acting" can be difficult to connect with.


Additionally, the performance space for the production's December 8 debut is the company's rehearsal home: the 32nd story of an L.A. skyscraper. "Given the lack of an official fourth wall with the proscenium, I thought it was an opportunity to do something entirely different."

His solution? Allow the audience to be part of the first act's party. They can move about the space and walk right up to the musicians playing a chamber composition of Tchaikovsky's score. Though there are partitioned sections for the mechanical dolls to do their thing, the party also includes some "dreamy carnival" activities audience members can partake in. (Jones didn't want to spoil the surprise, so L.A. audiences will have to wait and see what these include.)

Paradoxically, Jones also wasn't interested in sugar coating his Land of Sweets. He says that many Nutcracker productions are based off of the Alexandre Dumas version of the tale, which "takes the teeth out of [the story]." In contrast, he's hoping to challenge the audience with themes from the darker E.T.A. Hoffman story that came first. Rather than a sweet dream, comfortable to fall in to and easy to awaken from, Jones is more interested in the choice Hoffman poses: Should Marie (Clara in Dumas's adaptation) dispense with childhood fantasies and conform to the strict world awaiting her, or enter adulthood "with her imagination intact?"


Artists of Wonderbound in "Snow." Photo by Amanda Tipton, Courtesy Wonderbound.

Wonderbound's Snow

Denver, Colorado-based Wonderbound does away with Nutcracker altogether. Snow, which opens on December 12, is part two of a three-part trilogy. (Winter debuted three years ago, Snow encores this year, and the third is yet to come.) Each production can stand on its own or be part of a year-to-year journey rotated over time.

And each is darker than your average holiday production. In creating his company's winter show, artistic director Garrett Ammon was more interested in the season's themes of "death and renewal" than its candy cane and tinsel traditions.

He also perfectly tailored his production for the young professional's date night. The company performs the 50-55-minute Snow twice per evening. (Scheduled on weeknights, so as not to compete with weekends' other performance and party obligations.) The first is an "appetizer" show, the second is "dessert"; Wonderbound works with local restaurants to provide the bites. Audience members can grab dinner at the partner eatery then head to company's garage space to nibble on dessert while watching the show, or they can reverse the order with appetizers beforehand.

If the food and beverage offerings aren't enough to entice, Snow is its own kind of wonderland with incorporated puppetry, projections, and live music by a local folk band. "Even if they know nothing about ballet," says Ammon, "people can still come to one of our performances and have many avenues of entry to be a full-fledged member of the audience." And once he lures you in, he may even rope you into some light audience participation.

Ammon says that with its folk and court-dancing origins, ballet used to be participatory. As an art form, it doesn't have to be rarefied.

American Contemporary Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite runs December 8–23.

Wonderbound's Snow runs December 12–21.

Latest Posts


Getty Images

Ask Amy: How Can I Overcome My Fear of Pirouettes on Pointe?

I have a terrible fear of falling when doing turns on pointe. I sometimes cry in class when we have to do new turns that I'm not used to. I can only do bad singles on a good day, while some of my classmates are doing doubles and triples. How can I get over this fear? —Gaby

Keep reading SHOW LESS
xmb photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

The Washington Ballet's Sarah Steele on Her At-Home Workouts

Ballet at home: Since she's not preparing for any immediate performances, Steele takes ballet barre three to four times a week. "I'm working in more of a maintenance mode," she says, prioritizing her ankles and the intrinsic muscles in her feet. "If you don't work those muscles, they disappear really quickly. I've been focusing on a baseline level of ballet muscle memory."

What she's always working on: Strengthening her glute-hamstring connection (the "under-butt" area), which provides stability for actions like repetitive relevés and power for jumps. Bridges are her go-to move for conditioning those muscles. "Those 'basic food group'–type exercises are some of the best ones," she says.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Hiding Injuries: Why Downplaying Pain Can Lead to Bigger Problems Down the Road

Sabrina Landa was thrilled to be offered a traineeship with Pennsylvania Ballet. "As a trainee, everything felt like a chance to prove myself as a professional," she says. Her training hours increased and she was dancing more than she ever had before. When Landa began experiencing pain in her metatarsals partway through the 2018 Nutcracker season, she notified the staff. "But in fear of losing my shows, I downplayed the severity of it," Landa says.

She notes that no one pushed her to keep dancing but herself. "I was 18 and was aiming to receive a contract by the end of the year," she says. "I felt so much anxiety over missing an opportunity that I was afraid to be honest about my pain." Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic staff were understanding and supportive, but Landa minimized her injury for the next few months, wanting to push through until the season ended and contracts were offered. But after months of pain and an onset of extreme weakness in her foot, Landa was diagnosed with two stress fractures in her second and third metatarsals. She spent the next three months on crutches and six months off dancing to allow for the fractures' delayed healing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks