The Nutcracker at UNCSA

The timeless tale of "The Nutcracker" steps into the present in the world premiere of the popular holiday tradition newly created for film by the schools of Dance, Design & Production, Filmmaking, & Music. With all-new choreography, & costumes, & a revised score, the production honors the beloved story while reflecting modern sensibilities.

AIRED: December 22, 2020 | 0:58:06

[gentle orchestral fanfare]

- I'm Brian Cole,

Chancellor of the University of North Carolina,

School of the Arts.

UNCSA is a highly ranked performing arts conservatory,

that brings five artistic disciplines together

on one campus.

Our alumni makeup the talented workforce

that leads the arts and entertainment industry worldwide.

This is the 55th year,

we have presented the beloved holiday tradition

of the Nutcracker ballet to our audiences.

But this is the first time it's been premiered as a film.

As you know, the arts industry is facing a new paradigm

due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite these immense challenges,

UNCSA has adapted to the new reality

and continues providing gifted young artists

with the experience, knowledge and skills,

needed to excel in their disciplines and their lives.

This production is just one example

of how the arts thrive despite difficult circumstances

and how UNCSA is preparing artists for an evolving industry

and shaping the generation that will define

the future of the arts.

I am proud of the work of the more than 300 people

that put together this groundbreaking collaborative


and hope it brings some hope and light to you

in this holiday season.

I'm Jared Redick,

the Interim Dean of Dance and a UNCSA alumnus

of the high school ballet program.

This year,

I'm an executive producer and co-director

of the first ever UNCSA Nutcracker

that has been completely re-imagined for film.

Our highly ranked school of dance

has a long standing reputation of developing talented dancers

into successful professionals,

through our conservatory approach to training.

We are also the exclusive educational affiliate

of American ballet theater.

To create this original film,

we collaborated with the schools of filmmaking,

design and production and music.

Our top ranked film school brought together

their cinematography, visual effects

and producing faculty and students

to oversee the transformation of this classic ballet

into a breathtaking film.

Students from design and production design and lighting,

produced the sets and provided essential support

for the entire production.

Talented musicians from the school of music

recorded an abridged version of Tchaikovsky's iconic score

and our dancers brought to life a stunning new choreography.

Following safety restrictions,

due to the COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge

but we still came together to create this exciting new work.

We are artists and innovators.

That is what we do.

We create, we imagine, we innovate and we dream.

Without further ado,

please enjoy our production of the Nutcracker.

- [Narrator] It was a big Christmas party

on Christmas Eve night.

Tender hearted young Clara waited hushed with delight.

Her godfather Drosselmeyer clockmaker by trade

with his presence in tow came around traveling late.

His keen clock making skills were used to that fine eve.

He built a Nutcracker doll for the girl to receive.

Clara cherished the Nutcracker,

sat him on her lap till her naughty young brother,

the doll did kidnap,

running him off with the soldier dressed toy in his grip

rudely broke the door's head with a tumble and slip.

To sweet Clara's heart sickness,

her godfather said,

"Your poor toy seems to have a great crack in his head.

When you wake from your slumbers, he should be all right.

So run off you to sleep,

have sweet dreams and good night."

[classical music playing]

- Hey you. - Hey.

- How are you?

- I'm good.

- Are you going for a break?

- I am.

- Bye.

- Bye.

- Hey Emma,

happy holidays.

- We found ourselves in extraordinary circumstances

this year.

Yet, despite the immense challenges before us,

we created a new and inspiring work of art.

You've just seen the film

and now let me pull back the curtain

and give you a glimpse behind the scenes

of creating this year's production of the Nutcracker.

The biggest challenge we faced

in this production of the Nutcracker,

was creating an all-school production,

in such a limited timeframe,

with all the restrictions we were operating under.

It was quite the challenge, but just like at UNCSA

we always find a way to make it happen.

We innovate and we create.

[classical music]

- My name is Jared Redick.

I'm the Interim Dean of Dance

and for this year's production of the Nutcracker,

I am the executive producer and co-director.

Back in June,

when we knew that restrictions were going to be in place

and live performance was not going to be a possibility,

we started looking at what was going to be possible.

We looked at the restrictions, not as a hindrance

but as an opportunity for us to put together

this all-school production

and involve the school of filmmaking for the first time

in the history of Nutcracker at UNCSA.

We had a very intentional viewpoint about

what this production needed to look like.

We wanted it to keep it traditional

and yet we knew we couldn't do partnering.

We needed to keep the dancers separated

and that really informed a lot of the process.

One of the first pieces that we had to put into place was,

we need the soundtrack.

And so we started there with the school of music

and that happened in late September

to the first week in October.

Right after that,

we imported and loaded in

our Steven center opera house stage,

this flooring there, we put it into sound stage six.

We created a lighting plot there.

So we took the entire Steven center

and put it into soundstage six and filmmaking.

We were able to set up shop

and start filming beginning of October.

So we were there for about five weeks shooting.

The students invested so much of their artistic talent

in every facet of this production.

When I look back and I see every corner

is filled with something so imaginative and creative

and artistic is a testament to the strength of our students.

This was my first time directing the film

and having the opportunity to work with Tom Ackerman,

who has this huge history and experience

as a cinematographer.

I mean, absolutely we learned from the best

right here on our campus, right here on our faculty.

He saw things through his cinematographer's viewpoint

and it brought new dimension

to what we actually put on film.

An order of magnitude of dance on film

we're seeing in the professional world

is something very new.

And to give this opportunity to our students

and let them learn

by being in front of the camera on a soundstage

that's an invaluable experience that they've gotten.

So I'm so very proud of our dancers

and how they rose to the occasion

of being on the set for the first time.

We saw their artistry, their creativity

their training, and their dedication to their art form,

it was really gratifying to see.

I think about the children who will see this production

and this might be the very first time

they see production of the Nutcracker

and it's so visually appealing and so accessible

that it will inspire a whole new generations of dancers,

that is my hope.

And that is a very big and ambitious hope

but certainly it was part of the visioning.

And this was also to show our students

that even with all these restrictions,

we can create, we find ways to innovate,

we are artists that is we do,

we create and we imagine, and we dream.

A new artistic medium required, bold new choreography,

gain insight into the process of creating for camera

and enter the film sound stage to see it come together.

A lot of the movement itself,

a lot of our movement,

a lot of the angles that we're taking

with particularly only work in a film version

of this production is definitely been tailored to film.

- My name is Ilya Kozadayez.

I'm the Assistant Professor of ballet

at the University of North Carolina school of the Arts.

And I'm the choreographer for Nutcracker this year.

We're doing a collaboration, a collaborative production

between the school of dance, the school of music,

school of design and production,

as well as the school of film.

So this is the first time that we're doing a movie version

if you will.

It's a much shorter version,

so it's been condensed from a two-hour production

to a 30-minute production.

So that required really sitting down

and thinking through what seems neat to be shortened,

what scenes need to be completely emitted

and how we can create a through line

and not lose the essence of the production,

not lose the essence of the story,

but to try to keep it as "traditional" as possible,

but having it all very much condensed.

I've done some choreography for film

but it's been in a much smaller capacity.

I really had to consider what shots and what takes

and what angles we're actually taking

and creating choreography around that

has been challenging for me.

It's been the challenge, you know

with the way the world is now,

with the restrictions we have,

it's a big challenge choreographically

to create something this large, with this many dancers.

The challenge is really to keep everybody safe.

And the challenge is to keep everybody separated enough

yet maintain a level of choreography

and traditional classical language,

and that is difficult.

- He makes sure everything is just right,

he's specific, but he's also kind

he makes sure you're okay

especially with masks and social distancing.

He wants to make sure everyone's safe and comfortable.

So it's been an amazing experience.

I've enjoyed working with a different mindset, I think

rather than just going in thinking it's a rehearsal

for a piece,

it's more going in rehearsing and evolving as a character

while combining that with my dancing

because it is more important this year

to make sure that I am able to get the storyline across.

All of my teachers always tell me to be Clara first

and then a dancer.

So just being human, being myself really helps.

As dancers we train to emote our reactions

to an audience far away.

So I guess this year when putting a camera up close

to your face,

it's different to make the reaction more genuine.

- I'm excited about the fact that our students

are getting to have the Nutcracker experience

even in these difficult times where,

live performance is really, really difficult.

We're in a unique place on this campus

to have the opportunity to collaborate

with so many amazing artists here

and to be able to pull this off and put this together

in such a difficult and a strange time for everybody.

I'm hoping that the impact is gonna be a big for UNCSA.

I'm hoping that this is gonna reach a lot of eyes.

I'm excited about it.

I want to see what it finally looks like.

I want the movie to stop playing in my head

and I want to actually be able to see what we have.

Dancers costumes not only help establish their characters

but also define and accentuate the lines and movements

of their bodies.

On camera, these details are even more important.

Come with us inside the dance costume shop

and take a look at the alterations required

for this year's production.

- I am so fortunate to have Nutcracker

been a part of my entire life.

I really have a connection with every step

that our Nutcracker has evolved.

And I'm so excited to be a part of this

new crazy version that we're doing now.

I'm Marissa McCullough.

I'm the director of the dance costume shop.

This is my third year as the director.

This year's Nutcracker is on film,

which is so exciting.

And it's really been an interesting challenge

for the school of dance and for the whole school obviously.

Collaborating with school of film has been a first for me.

So it's been a really exciting learning process.

There's a definite understanding

that we are filming a theatrical production.

The dancers will be wearing usual stage makeup

and the costumes are over the top and covered in sequence

for any of us who grew up watching ballets on film,

getting to see the closeups

of some of the theatrical styling,

was something that drew us in, that appealed to us.

So we didn't want to deprive that for our viewers.

- I think the difference between costumes for film

and for stage are in the very minor details.

So in film, since everything seems to be a lot closer up

we all have to make sure every like little detail

is perfect cause you will see it.

- In the opening of what would be act two

or Land of The Sweets,

Sugar Plum is ushered in by her attendance.

And so they're kind of like her ladies in waiting.

So we wanted to come up with a costume

that coordinated with her

but it was maybe the junior version of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

This is the new night gown that we made for young Clara.

We used a combination of three different vintage laces

for the bodice, with a light purple background,

again giving it a slight nod to the previous design,

which is also purple.

So this is the original sketch

for our usual theatrical version of Drosselmeyer

and you can see he's a slightly ominous character

a little bit mysterious.

And when we knew that alumni Anthony Santos

was coming to play the role,

we wanted to make a new design for him.

This Drosselmeyer is much more magical

and a little less ominous.

And so we wanted his costume to reflect that.

So we went with a little bit more colorful

he's in kind of rich purples eggplants,

a fun little detail or these beautiful buttons

which are actually the same buttons

that are used on our theatrical version of Drosselmeyer.

So I wanted it to have a little bit of a tie

in to kind of the history of the character.

The colors and the fabrics are going to look beautiful

on Anthony.

And I think really pop on camera.

For this production of the Nutcracker,

all of our performers are masked.

One of the challenges was coming up with a shape

and a structure that we felt was comfortable and functional

for the dancer so that they could breathe easily

and for the masks to still look like they were part of

the costume.

- There's a lining on the inside

and like the middle nose bridge.

So it doesn't keep sucking in

and like preventing us from breathing while we're dancing.

- I grew up on this campus.

I grew up watching the Nutcracker as a party child

and the Nutcracker watching my sister

perform the Nutcracker.

It's really important to me that we keep

the community connected with the beauty and uniqueness

of the school.

Being able to provide the holiday cheer

and the special experience that the Nutcracker means

to so many people.

I'm just so glad that we're finding a way to do that now.

And I'm just happy to be a part of making that magic.

- We wanted this production to have a fresh new look

and changing the portrayal of Drosselmeyer,

was central to that vision.

From the beginning, this role was intended for an alum.

Once Anthony Santos' name came up,

we knew this role needed to be made for him.

We are thrilled to have him back to UNCSA,

for this exciting new collaboration.

- I'm really excited to just see a new version

of Nutcracker.

I've seen many Nutcrackers

and I've never seen a black Drosselmeyer ever.

So it's really good that they're showing people

that like Drosselmeyer can be anyone.

My name is Anthony Santos,

I graduated 2017 from the Contemporary Dance Program

and I'm playing Drosselmeyer in the new Nutcracker.

I graduated and I joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem

in New York, the iconic Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Dance Theatre of Harlem is a touring company.

So I've had the opportunity to travel around the world

and do a lot of ballet actually,

way more ballet than I expected.

I feel like there were a lot of steps of vocabulary

that I missed out on being a contemporary major.

And I kind of had to play catch up.

This is the first time I'm like back on campus

and I had the opportunity to see some faculty.

And once I stepped on campus, I was like,

"Oh my God I'm a student again."

The role of Drosselmeyer is different now,

one big reason because he's a young man

and traditionally Drosselmeyers,

are a lot older, you know,

and watching Drosselmeyer videos

and trying not to actually take all of the inspiration

I would get from these videos

because most of the Drosselmeyers are like much older.

I would look at this and I would say,

"Well, how would this character be

if he was 20, 30 years younger?"

He still has that innocence in him.

He hasn't experienced the whole world yet

where he can just be this crazy, ridiculous, mad scientist.

And he still has an innocent quality about him.

Since it's not live and I'm wearing a mask,

I feel like my eyes and my hands

and the way I move my body has to be 10 times as real,

if that makes sense.

You're so used to performing in like an opera house

where you have the balconies all the way up here

and you have to show yourself to the whole audience.

I can't just show myself to the people down here.

And so when you put forearms for so long,

it's natural once you start to dance,

to reach out to everyone

and then film, it was different where,

reaching out was reaching out to that camera.

That camera is everyone.

I've seen many Nutcrackers and a lot of them are the same

so it's really good that they're starting something new.

- Recording the Sleeping melodies

of Tchaikovsky's iconic score required creative solutions

to ensure both safety for our musicians

and the artistic integrity of the music.

Meet our guest conductor and witness the momentous task

of creating this beautiful piece of music.

- I think Nutcracker every year at the school,

hopes to achieve engagement with the community,

engagement across the departments.

Although the environment has completely changed,

the goal is to have this Nutcracker achieve exactly

the same thing.

My name is Karin Hendrickson.

I'm a conductor.

This is my third year at UNCSA a guest artist.

And I'm here to conduct the film version of Nutcracker.

For first and second violins, pina SMO for Viola cello.

Coming to you in UNCSA is like coming home a bit.

I love the school because of its collaborative spirit

and there's always a willingness to see what can be done,

what can be achieved, what can be moved

what can be changed.

And I find that type of thinking at a school

just very invigorating.

It's my first time working with an orchestra for a film.

I'm first recording the strings

and then I bring in the winds and brass and percussion,

and we start layering them on

- By necessity,

we're recording striped sections,

which means that woodwinds brass, percussion and strings

are all recorded separately.

And we are combining them later on.

- It's it's been a weird experience to say the least.

I mean, we're going to be listening to the strings

we have already played and trying to play

our part on top of it.

- The biggest challenge is just sinking everything up

and making sure that everybody's playing together

because there are four completely different sections

of instrumentalists that are playing

at completely different times.

- I think I'm always just excited

for different types of collaborative experiences at UNCSA.

So I feel like this is just another opportunity

for us to create an different way.

- Everybody's working with the idea of story

and how film will deliver that story,

how dance will deliver that story,

how musically we will deliver that story

is all in line but also at the moment,

it begins very separately.

And then we slowly funnel it together

to have one unified stream.

And that is the essence of ultimate collaboration.

This is the goal,

not just in terms of what we want Nutcracker to be

but in terms of what we want the student experience to be.

Keep it moving.


- One of the advantages is that

the whole world can be able to see it now.

And my family would never get to see it back in Serbia

if it weren't a movie.

- I haven't heard of any other school or conservatory

in the country or even in the world

trying to do this.

So I think the end product will definitely be

a milestone for the school.

- Right now,

it is very difficult to deliver

a performance experience,

a collaborative experience that shared in a room.

But that being said,

it doesn't mean it can't be done creatively.

It doesn't mean it has to be done mechanically.

We can find all the creativity, all the musicality,

all of the collaboration, but we have to really think

about how we bring those elements together

to deliver the student experience that we want to deliver.

It has really brought home to me,

the importance of the story

and the importance of sharing that story

and that's partly why I'm really eager to see

the end result.

And I would just really encourage audiences

as you come to this particular Nutcracker,

to sit back and experience it with completely new eyes

and with a completely open heart to see

what can be produced in a way that you might not expect

and really be willing to go on the journey with us

and see where it takes you at the end.

- Early in the development of the project,

we knew we wanted to create something like never before.

The addition of visual effects allowed us

to imagine magical scenes our audience

could never experience on stage.

- What we're trying to do,

is create something that's a little bit more magical

in the cinematic terms.

So we're using a lot of visual effects to give

some of the dance performances,

just the kind of sparkle and magic

that you couldn't possibly do on stage.

- My name is Bob keen.

I'm the chair of Immersive Entertainment and Visual Effects.

And my role on Nutcracker

was the visual effects supervisor.

We're not doing it live this year,

we're doing it as a cinematic experience.

So we haven't been involved in Nutcracker before

but suddenly the film school was involved pretty much.

Right from the beginning,

we knew that we wanted to put more of the digital

type of effects than the physical type of effects

but we want to do enhance some of the shots

and some of the scenes.

- I am the environmental designer

that basically entails working within the unreal engine

and creating virtual environments in place of physical sets.

So instead of having to go on location to snowy Wonderland,

we get to create this all in the engine

and bring this world to life.

It's more than just placing objects down,

it's trying to convey a story with a landscape.

And that's my favorite part of these things.

Typically we use the flat images as the reference

in the program even,

and we'll kind of just build it up

to follow the shapes and the lines.

So this is one of the designs that the designers

for Nutcracker gave us.

So our job was to take this elevation

and turn it into assets.

This was one of the references that

the designers of Snow gave to us.

They wanted this very cut-out sort of storybook look

to everything.

- So we're gonna be generating elements

and unreal engine

to pretty much create like night skies.

Above the dancers what we've done is,

effectively created a relatively simple system

to where every one of the sets has a ground row.

It's like a physical wall that is above all of

the dancers heads.

That way we don't have to worry

about cutting individual dancers out

and we can focus more on the stylistic artistic approach

to those shots.

- One of the visual effects shots

which I think has really worked out,

it's a dancer who we've shot against a blue screen.

She's been shrunk down to dance on the princess hand.

There's probably going to be in the region

of about 30 visual effects shots.

It's a big undergoing for us

but in some ways that's the challenge

and that's the fun of this kind of project

is that you're trying to get the best

out of everything with all of the time limitations

that you have.

And that's really where thinking outside the box

and problem solving comes in.

It's really interesting to come from a film point of view

and then working with the dancers.

They have completely different way

about thinking about things.

So it's been a really nice collaboration

between all the schools.

- The angle color, and intensity of light on a dancer's body

can completely change the way

an audience experiences a piece.

Lighting design for theater and film are two distinct arts.

Come explore the combination of the two

and how it shapes the tone of a scene.

- I enjoy telling stories and I enjoy telling stories

through something that is not the most obvious

to be able to influence the audience's feelings

and their experience when seeing something on stage,

is incredibly powerful.

There is really nothing else like it.

My name is Yuko,

I'm a fourth year lighting designer at UNCSA

and I'm the lighting designer for this year's Nutcracker.

The lighting designed for our usual UNCSA Nutcracker

is designed by the same person

and it has been for the past however many years.

So it's going to be different because I'm designing it.

Nutcrackers is very special to me

because it was my first dance show

that I have ever seen and worked on.

So being a part of that was very special.

I start with research,

so I would research who the director is,

who the original choreographer is,

what the past productions were like,

the history behind it

and then I come in to a design meeting

with the director or a choreographer.

And we talk about what makes this specific show special,

early at the choreographer,

and I talked a lot about color

because the lighting is very much influenced by color.

We talked about what our visual idea is for each scene.

So whether that be color, imagery or intensity imagery,

whatever that is, we really want to make sure

that that also is coherent with the music.

I think about music a lot,

I listen to it over and over again.

I hear, you know, where the tension is in that music

where the dynamic changes are

and that influences what colors should be

or does it even need color

because sometimes the music itself speaks color

and where that lighting is motivated,

from depending on the idea of the lighting

that I have for that show.

Snow is my favorite part of the whole show,

it's the most magical part.

And it's also the first magical place that Clara

has been introduced to

when she enters this other world.

And I wanted to make sure that that goes well

with the choreography and the music.

So when it comes to lighting,

I want to make sure that

that magic is being seen on stage.

That first, all moment,

that beautiful blue cue being highlighted by bees

low boom lights on the dancer's body.

It creates sort of this shape and dimension

and this interesting shadow

that you can't really get from a light on the gown.

- There's definitely gonna be a theatrical quality of light

and how the light is sculpting the dancer

especially just with the ability to control more light

so you can really fine tune like

what's getting picked up with which light.

Dancers move a lot

and so we are adding followspots,

we're adding to scaffolding units into space

which are going to hold a spotlight operators

because you're not sitting all the way

at the back of the house.

The camera's going to be close up to the dancers.

It's going to take you closer to the action.

So you're gonna really experience it like you never have.

- I'm super excited about working with film artists.

It's such a unique opportunity

to be able to collaborate this way.

That collaboration I think is very special

to just to our Nutcracker.


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