Sac Ballet Welcomes Return Of Live Music To "The Nutcracker"


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Some audiences at this year’s production of “The Nutcracker” by the Sacramento Ballet are getting an extra treat. Several performances feature a live orchestra instead of the customary recorded music. Turns out it's a treat for the dancers too.

Most ballet companies use recorded music during rehearsals, and the Sacramento Ballet is no exception. Co-artistic director Carrine Binda works with her dancers as music from a compact disc player fills the Ballet's studio.

While CD’s are fine for rehearsing, there’s nothing like having live music at performances.  But that’s been too expensive in the wake of the recent recession.

Still, dancer Christopher Nachtrab says there is a small upside to using recorded music…

 “It’s very easy for the dancers to get into a groove, because they understand exactly how the tempis are going to be every time,” says Nachtrab.

"But the thrill of performing live is that anything can happen.”

Indeed, when it’s live, the tempo can be faster, or slower.

And that’s why Nachtrab and others in the company look forward to the shows featuring an orchestra.

“It keeps you on your toes. It’s exciting,” says Lauren Breen.  She'll be dancing on stage when conductor Henrik Jul Hansen leads the orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s famous score.  Hansen will sometimes vary the pace to favor the way a particular dancer handles a solo. It’s more interactive and more stimulating for the dancers. 

Breen says it’s also a thrill for the hundreds of children who participate in Nutcracker performances.

“The first time the little Arabian children, who are like eight or nine, had a rehearsal, one of them ran up to me at the end of the rehearsal, and said ‘Do I really get to be on stage with real professionals?’ And I said ‘Yes, you do!’ And she said ‘This is going to be awesome!’ And she ran outside to tell her mom, she was so excited.”

Chris Nachtrab says exposing kids to ballet with live music provides an added dimension.

“And by having the live orchestra there, by creating an entire experience for a child that’s never seen the ballet to walk in and immediately hear the strings of the orchestra tuning up, and have to the conductor walk out, and strike the first chord of the overture, it creates this entire educational process, that we are teaching the community and educating them how to be an artistic and cultural community.”

A live orchestra adds thousands of dollars to the cost of a performance. But choreographer Ron Cunningham hopes that this year’s Nutcracker – with some performances featuring recorded music at a lower ticket price, and others providing the orchestra at more of a premium price, will give people the chance to choose – maybe even try both.

“And perhaps over the years we can add a few more, and a few more, and eventually restore live music for The Nutcracker entirely,” says Cunningham.

The Sacramento Ballet presents "The Nutcracker" through December 23rd at the Sacramento Community Center Theatre. 




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