Back in March, Miami City Ballet (MCB) was preparing to close out its 2019-2020 season with its production of Don Quixote. Up to that point, the season had been a massive success, with sold-out performances of The Firebird and I’m Old Fashioned. The company was on track for its highest-grossing season.
MCB had also announced the upcoming 35th-anniversary season for 2020-2021, “featuring the North American premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Swan Lake and three world premieres by artists of the Magic City.”
Then, like so many other high hopes held for 2020, MCB’s good fortunes got shut down. Its Miami Beach studios closed and dancers were sent home indefinitely.
Perhaps it's a Christmas miracle that in late October, instead of starting a new season, the company announced that it was partnering with the City of Doral and several other local institutions to bring its annual production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker to Downtown Doral Park.
Starting on Friday, December 18, the company will present 14 outdoor performances through the end of the month. The first performance is reserved for first responders and essential workers. After that, the general public can purchase tickets, which are being sold as pods of four to maintain social distanced.
“This was important to the company because of our mission to engage and inspire our community through the power of dance,” says Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, MCB’s executive director. “It is our desire to bring some normalcy back into our daily lives and to provide hope, joy, and healing at a time when it’s needed most.”
The idea came from a conversation between artistic director Lourdes Lopez and Ana-Marie Codina Barlick, CEO of Codina Partners, the master developer of Downtown Doral. Codina Barlick, a longtime MCB supporter and board emeritus member, says she “jumped at the opportunity to bring the production to Downtown Doral,” which is handling the front-of-house operations and pod seating.
Because The Nutcracker is a complex production designed for performing art centers like the Arsht Center, Lopez had to get creative with her production and artistic staff to reimagine it. She invited back legendary theatrical projection designer Wendall K. Harrington, who had worked on the scenery animations for the company’s brand-new production of The Nutcracker in 2017.
John Hall, MCB’s production and lighting director, collaborated closely with Harrington.
“We’re not able to use the scenery we’d normally use in a regular theater, so we decided to use more projections,” Hall explains. “[Harrington] is taking the artwork of the actual painted scenery and incorporating it into projected images to use as new scenery.”
The result will be a fantastic, multimedia oeuvre that will feature recorded video footage of the stage show and scenery animations projected onto a giant screen and, of course, live dancing.
This ambitious endeavor required funding, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation stepped in with a $250,000 grant to help produce the state-of-the-art digital aspects. Baptist Health South Florida came aboard as the healthcare partner and will test the performers and production crew every day.
The other challenge? There's no actual theater at Doral Park.
“We’re basically building the performance space in addition to mounting the show,” says Hall, who has overseen countless Nutcracker runs, but none quite like this. “Everything you’d get at a theater in terms of infrastructure, we had to bring it all in. The City of Doral has been incredibly helpful.”
Everyone at MCB sees this as a way to bring joy to audiences, share what the company loves, and allow the dancers to dance. It's the first live performance since March, and MCB is the only national ballet company presenting The Nutcracker live (or partially live) this season.
It has been a mammoth undertaking but a worthy labor of love.
“Seeing the private sector, the arts community, the healthcare sector, and government work seamlessly together to bring this gift to the community has been inspiring,” Codina Barlick says. “We need more joy, and I cannot imagine anything more joyful than being able to come together — albeit outdoors and socially distanced with masks — and experience the beauty of this holiday tradition.”
“The show has the possibility of being a truly uplifting thing for the community,” Hall adds. “We have the opportunity to make people smile for a while, at least. This has the potential to help some folks.”
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker in the Park. Friday, December 18, through Thursday, December 31, at Downtown Doral Park, 8395 NW 53rd St., Doral; 305-929-7010; miamicityballet.com. Tickets cost $125 to $285 via tickets.miamicityballet.org.
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