High tech, holiday traditions meet in Atlanta Ballet’s new ‘Nutcracker’

Gennadi Nedvigin, the Atlanta Ballet's artistic director for the past two years, was born in Russia and began his dancing career at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy at age 10. His first experience dancing in "The Nutcracker" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky occurred only after he joined the San Francisco Ballet in 1997.

Nedvigin says that Russia has a different relationship to “The Nutcracker” than the American holiday tradition. “In Russia, ‘The Nutcracker’ would be performed in June,” Nedvigin says. “It’s regarded as one of the classical full-length ballets, performed by companies as part of the repertoire.”

He danced the Cossack and Cavalier roles in his first “Nutcracker” production in San Francisco. “It was new to me, and I grew into it as a holiday tradition,” he says.

After 20 years working in the United States, he's comfortable overseeing the Atlanta Ballet's lavish, state-of-the-art new production of "The Nutcracker," the company's first version since previous artistic director John McFall debuted the show in the mid-1990s. The show will begin Saturday at the Fox Theatre.

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In some ways, the new rendition of the holiday ballet feels like a passing of the torch, but Nedvigin says after a couple of decades, any show needs sprucing up. “In a way, every company has a span of about 20 years of ‘The Nutcracker’ and then new version is produced,” he says during a brief break in rehearsals. “Performing every year, the costumes and scenery get worn out and dirty, so it’s normal for them to have a span of 15-20 years.”

For this refreshed version of “The Nutcracker,” Nedvigin reunites with renowned Russian choreographer Yuri Possokhov. “Before we even started talking, Yuri had ideas about ‘The Nutcracker.’ We’re very happy that his vision is becoming reality.”

The production team includes Tony Award-winning video/projection designer Finn Ross, Tony-nominated set designer Tom Pye and lighting designer David Finn. The $3.7 million production promises to enhance the dance with projected imagery and other state-of-the-art technological effects.

“As technology moves on, artists develop new skills. Technology inspires creatives to explore new borders of their imagination onstage. Yuri is a master of this. The projections and visual enhancements will only help him bring the dancers up front,” says Nedvigin.

At a press conference in May, Finn spoke highly of Possokhov’s creative vision. “He describes what he wants to do, and you think, ‘My God, there’s no way we can put that on stage!’ But I’ve worked with him before and he always succeeds. It’s brilliant what he can do on a rehearsal room and a stage.”

The new production takes inspiration from “The Nutcracker’s” source, the children’s story by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann, by being set in a small German town. The show features more than 250 costumes designed by Sandra Woodall to evoke the fashion of the Regency period in the early 1800s, as well as sugar plum fairies, rodent soldiers and more.

During "The Nutcracker's" run from Dec. 8-24, the production features four different casts, with lead roles including Airi Igarashi, Jessica Assef, Emily Carrico and Darian Kane as Marie, and Sergio Masero-Olarte, Igor Leushin, Moises Martin and Nikolas Gaifullin as the Nutcracker Prince.

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A favorite tradition of the Atlanta Ballet’s production will stay in place, as the show will include performances from dozens of young dancers from local schools. With 42 children’s roles per show across four different casts, a total of 168 young dancers will perform with the professionals.

Nedvigin acknowledges the challenges of the Atlanta Ballet’s show, which includes live music from the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra. “The Fox Theatre is not a large theater, and we do have a large cast. It’s larger than the previous version. We’ve been looking at the way they did it in the past — what we call ‘backstage choreography’ — to make it efficient and safe for everyone.”

The choreography onstage, however, promises to blend Russian artistry with holiday performance traditions.


“The Nutcracker” by Atlanta Ballet

Dec. 8-24. $31.25-$136.25. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-881-2100, foxtheatre.org.