Props, costumes essential for ballet school’s NutcrackerNov 30, 2023 12:59PM ● By Linda Steele
Mother Ginger and the children in “The Nutcracker.” (Photo courtesy Tamra Hyde Expression Photography)
“The Nutcracker” is a traditional show for the holiday season, often performed by ballet company members.
Rachael Ellis, director of En Pointe School of Ballet has her studio perform “The Nutcracker” every year during the holiday season and the performance of her Nutcracker has been performed twice, this year will be the third year Ellis sets her sights to making sure the audience understands the symbolisms of the ballet.
“It’s important to me that each member of the audience has an enjoyable experience. I enjoy educating our audience and students regarding beloved ballet traditions,” Ellis said.
En Pointe’s elegant ballet showcases the foods in the party scene and again in the sweets scene. There is always a narration at the beginning of each act.
Ellis, who has operated a dance studio for 16 years, strives to have imaginative props for her show. It is important to her that the audience understands the ballet so she uses unique props to emphasize the story.
Her vision includes taking out the color red in scenes like in the Russian dance, Chinese dance and Spanish dance with only the candy canes to be red. She decided to have the Spanish dance to look like hot chocolate, brown with white whip cream. For the lemon mirlitons she wanted candy shop colors for them to dance with a French chef. The Arabian coffee and Chinese green tea were served at the party and they make an appearance in Clara’s dream.
“This year we are adding German Gingerbread cookies with pink and white frosting and our unique version also has cupcakes.” Ellis said.
They have a gigantic Mother Ginger costume representing a Victorian-era Russian cookie tin that contained gingersnaps.
“I had a vision in my mind of how I wanted her to look....Marie Antionette elegance in pastel pink and blue like cotton candy. My talented husband built the framework and our Costume Director Taunya Lofgran and a team of moms on our sewing committee brought her to life, larger than life, just as beautiful as I had imagined,” Ellis said.
Mother Ginger’s skirt is 7 feet tall. The actress playing Mother Ginger stands on a platform high up in the air wearing her pink cotton candy wig. She is covered with satin ribbon bows created by Melena Walton, a member of the costume committee,. She enters the stage as a huge figure and little dancers called bonbons come from under her enormous skirt.
The Uncle Drosselmeyer costume is Steampunk-inspired meant to reflect the industrial side of the Victorian age. Ellis felt like he was more of a tinkerer than a magician. He created these life-like animatronic dolls and Ellis felt like a steampunk image suited him best.
Ellis and her team made a lot of the costumes from scratch. For the props and scenery Ellis looked up ideas on Pinterest for how to make the giant lollipops out of pole noodles. She bought pots and put spray foam in them and stuck them in the lollipop sticks as well as foam roses that looked like icing. PVC pipe, wrapped in duct tape, is used to make the straws for the ice cream sodas. The white flowers are foam flowers. Fluted Lamp Shades from the 70’s and 80’s were used for the cupcakes. Ellis’s husband put a piece of wood in the bottom so they would have a weight and close up the top of the lamp shade, sprayed it with spray foam then stuck all the foam flowers on it.
“That part was super fun to plan,” Ellis said.
The macarons are made out of three donut shaped Styrofoam wreaths, covered the outside pink, and covered the inside white so they looked like frosting, then they were glued together.
They began making the props in June. Parents, volunteers and Ellis’s daughters Natasha Ellis and Mariah Shaw helped Ellis in the prop creation.
Britain Soderquist was the props and scenery director who, along with volunteers, helped create the Nutcracker, a 15 foot growing tree, and the giant food props such as cupcakes, ice cream sodas, lollipops, macarons and a candy covered throne.
Lofgran and Soderquist have moved on. “We would not have accomplished this great undertaking without them,” Ellis said.
Walton sewed over 300 bows for various Nutcracker costumes and worked on Mother Ginger. Nikki Allen is the new costume director. There are a dozen other women on the current costume committee.
The Nutcracker and Rat King costumes are the studios own design and creation out of necessity. The traditional huge bobble head masks were too large for the leaps and turns choreography of the Rat King and the Nutcracker. The masks are easier for the dancers to perform in.
En Pointe School of Ballet has boys and men’s classes, and four levels of partnering classes. They have fathers performing in the party scene as the dads. The boy’s classes are performing as soldiers and party boys, and the men’s classes perform as Russian dancers. The Rats, Rat King, Nutcracker, Nephew/Nutcracker Prince and the other principal partnering roles throughout the Land of Sweets are at the professional level of choreography.
“I took my vision of the way I wanted it to look. We designed it from the ground up. The dancers auditioned for parts at the end of June, then we started choreography. We spent all summer finishing up scenery, props and choreography right up to performance time,” she said. “I feel like we had miracles happen, because I still don’t know how we accomplished all that in five months A lot of people work together to make it happen. It all came together, this will be our third performance, and it keeps getting better every year.”
“The creation of our extravagant costumes, props and scenery has been an intense and time-consuming labor of love that took an army of volunteers to create in only five months in the fall of 2021,” Ellis said.
“This Nutcracker is traditional and elegant with extra creative details that make it uniquely our own,” Ellis said.
En Pointe Ballet presents The Nutcracker in four performances at Eastmont Middle School (10100 S. 1300 East) in Sandy, Utah.
* Nov. 30, 6 p.m.
* Dec. 1, 6 p.m.
* Dec. 2, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Tickets are $13-$15 and can be purchased at 28120.danceticketing.com.
Go to enpointeballet.net to get information on “The Nutcracker” and the studio. λ