The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.
Historically, a new Nutcracker has accompanied each major change in Atlanta Ballet's artistic leadership, serving as a flagship production that helped define an aesthetic. Robert Barnett introduced Balanchine's version in 1959. John McFall's warmly relatable 1995 Nutcracker presented the company as a tight-knit group of individual artists, setting the tone for a repertoire that favored innovation.
Nedvigin, on the other hand, has introduced a more conservative repertoire of classical, neoclassical and contemporary ballets, aiming to produce larger works and gain national and international visibility. Early on, he implemented the Vaganova training system to "solidify" dancers' technique. Despite major turnover, he's increased the company size by 11 dancers, for a total of 57 across the main company and Atlanta Ballet 2.
Yuri Possokhov leads rehearsal. Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet
He chose Possokhov, a long-time associate and the resident choreographer at San Francisco Ballet, to choreograph the new Nutcracker in part because Possokhov's "extremely elaborate and demanding style" would require dancers to step up their technical abilities, Nedvigin says.
For the plot, Possokhov turned to E.T.A. Hoffmann's original 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King—more a dark fantasy for adults than Alexandre Dumas' 1844 light retelling for children. A top-notch production team, including costume designer Sandra Woodall, lighting designer David Finn, scenic designer Tom Pye and Tony Award–winning projection designer Finn Ross, will evoke Hoffmann's era while incorporating video projection technology. Imagery appears spooky at times and mystical at others, capturing the uncertainty of Hoffmann's world.
Sandra Woodall's costume sketches for Atlanta Ballet's new production of The Nutcracker. Courtesy Atlanta Ballet
Whether or not the new visual effects overshadow the intimate human connections Atlanta audiences are accustomed to, Nedvigin promises The Nutcracker will be "overwhelming, in the best way possible."