The holidays are naturally times of tradition and at Milwaukee Ballet – or any ballet company across the country – The Nutcracker brings its own host of annual engagements – above and beyond the performances themselves. For us, there’s the tree lighting at Bayshore Town Center, a costume demo for the 2nd graders at Rose Glen Elementary, a Nutcracker teaser at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, The Nutcracker Tea (a fantastic success at the Wisconsin Club!), parades and appearances all over town. All of these community outreach moments are important but there are a few that tug a bit more at our sugar-plum soaked heartstrings.
We’re in the second year of our partnership with the Aurora Zilber Family Hospice. Last Thursday, seven of the dancers of the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program and I went out at the request of Chaplain Tamara Frinak, the hospice’s local angel. Last year Tamara called us when a patient of hers, Robert, a former dancer himself, wanted one more opportunity to see a live performance. This was in the first week of the Milwaukee Ballet II (MBII) season but without hesitation many of the dancers volunteered; Erica Alvarado and Barry Molina ended up performing part of their Satanella pas de deux and spending an hour with Robert – talking about dance and its transformative powers. Over the course of last season, the MBIIs went to Zilber many times to dance for patients in their last moments. As Tamara was welcoming our new group of dancers last week she reminded them of the fragility of life and of the importance of being there for these people who may only have a day or even an hour left. At the end of a short Nutcracker performance that included Fritz’s solo, the Chinese dance and Sugar Plum’s variation, a group of women came up to me and told me that last year all eight daughters in their family went for the last time to see The Nutcracker with their mom, now a hospice patient, and that this was special beyond words for them.
Next Tuesday, a group of Company dancers will go out to the Children’s Hospital for our annual Angel Gift presentation and mini-Nutcracker performance. This is one of the few times that the Company has a chance to get out into the community and there’s never a shortage of interest for this event. We’ll be collecting gifts for children who will be spending the holidays at the hospital and bringing them along with eight dancers in Nutcracker costumes for a ballet storytime and little teaser of the show. For the children mobile enough to come to the auditorium, this is a chance to get out of their rooms and meet the dancers; for the little ones who can’t leave their beds, the hospital broadcasts us in-house and shows The Nutcracker a few times throughout the holidays as well.
This year, I’d like to dedicate a bit of our Nutcracker magic to a little girl named Maddie MacDonald, who I just met on Thanksgiving. Maddie had been at Children’s Hospital since July, bravely fighting a battle against leukemia. Her family reached out to the ballet during Dracula since Maddie had developed a new interest in vampires! I brought her a DVD of the show and some fun Dracula shwag – unfortunately I only had the opportunity to meet her once when I brought her some more ballet essentials – legwarmers, a sleeping mask, a make-up bag and a copy of our Romeo & Juliet. Maddie passed away recently, so when we go to the hospital next week, we’ll most certainly be dancing in her honor and for all of these families on difficult and scary journeys with their own little angels.
The arts are transformative and beautiful and magical and oh-so-important. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that as we hear the "Waltz of the Flowers" for the umpteenth time or as we get lost in the paperwork, budget planning and day-to-day business of a non-profit arts organization. For so many people the opportunity to experience the power of the performing arts isn’t available or possible and while sometimes we may take it for granted, I was really reminded last week, just how important and necessary the arts are.
The Nutcracker opens on Saturday and I think you’ll be in for an extra-special treat this year. I hear the Angels have some new choreography (and they really are a darling highlight of the show) and with all of our new dancers, you may look at the show with fresh eyes as you watch some of our newbies make their party scene debuts. If you’ve seen the cast lists that were just posted on the website, you’ll know that Marc Petrocci is really back – so don’t miss his Fritz because it’s always a knockout. The show is filled with magic so let’s enjoy and treasure it. Here’s wishing all of you a truly wondrous holiday season.
We’re collecting Angel Gifts for Children's Hospital at the theatre December 8-11. For more information on gift ideas and requirements, contact Renee Griswold at 414-902-2118 or at rgriswold [at] milwaukeeballet [dot] org.
Don't forget the Stein Angels Program sends children to The Nutcracker who otherwise couldn’t experience it.
Director of Education