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Atlanta Ballet's New Nutcracker Reflects Two Years of Changes Under Gennadi Nedvigin

Yuri Possokhov at work on his new Nutcracker for Atlanta Ballet. Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

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."

In Memoriam
A flyer showing Alberto Alonso, Fernando Alonso, Benjamin Steinberg and Alicia Alonso. Photo courtesy the author

Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.

My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

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In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."

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Allegra Bautista in Nevertheless, by ka·nei·see | collective. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

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"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.

With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.

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