As the Christmas season approaches, festivities are starting again. For Appalachian Ballet Company, this means rehearsals for and performances of their yearly showcase, The Nutcracker.
Every year during the beginning of December, Appalachian Ballet Company puts on a $175,000 Christmas showcase in the form of the famous ballet, The Nutcracker. Students train at Van Metre School of Dance, and then are able to audition for Appalachian Ballet Company when they reach the age of 10.
Amy Vaughn, the director of Van Metre School of Dance, explained the evolved nature of this company’s showcase.
“We started our first Nutcracker 52 years ago at Maryville College, and performed at the Maryville College theater. Then Mrs. Van Metre, who is our founding director, realized she wanted to have a symphony and present it for school children, so we moved to the Civic Auditorium,” said Vaughn.
Van Metre School of Dance opened in 1958, while Appalachian Ballet Company was chartered in 1972 as the resident dance company of the Clayton Center for the Arts (CCA), according to Appalachian Ballet Company’s website.
This year, two performances of the show were held at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, and another two were held at the CCA.
“This year, we [had] 2,200 school children there, and, for some of them, this [was] the first time they’ve ever seen a classical ballet live. It’s such a classic, traditional story, and one that everyone knows the music to, so it’s something people feel familiar with, even if they’ve never seen it live. It’s very exciting for us to present it to so many schoolchildren in East Tennessee,” Vaughn said.
Katelyn Compon, a senior History major at Maryville College, dances at Appalachian Ballet Company. Compton has performed in their production of The Nutcracker for 11 years.
“Ms. Van Metre did a lot of work with Maryville College. The school opened in 1958, and some of the earliest I can find of her involvement here was 1962, so I know dance classes were held here. But she also did a lot of work choreographing for plays, and then the school would also put on performances here at the Maryville College theater,” Compton said.
Compton described the warmth that dancing in the season show provides, emphasized during the holiday season.
“The entire atmosphere feels so familial, especially around this time of year. It’s a very close feeling in the whole studio – everyone feels so supportive of each other, working towards such an amazing show,” Compton said.
The performance, which has been going on for over 60 years, displays the nostalgia sought by regulars of the ballet, while also frequently changing casting and themes within the company to keep it exciting for the dancers and the audience. Vaughn explained that as the years go on, there are a multitude of new elements added to the performances to keep them engaging for the audience. This year, there were exciting new faces.
“We [had] some incredible guest artists come from Boston Ballet and Martha Graham Company, so we [had] quite a great group of men come in to dance with our girls. This year we [had] the Knoxville symphony for all four of our public shows, so for them to have live music, guest artists that are well known and then our group of dancers, I think it [was] a really exciting show.”
Shows took place on Dec. 2 and 3 at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, as well as Dec. 8 and 9 at the Clayton Center for the Arts. For more information, visit Appalachian Ballet Company’s website at appalachianballet.org.