Everyone has their own Christmas traditions. Some consist of driving the kids to see the sparkling Christmas lights at the Civic Center and Prien Lake Park while others head to the lakefront for Light Up the Lake Christmas Festival. Mine is sitting backstage in the dark watching the Sugar Plum Fairy weave in and out of stage lights as she dances with her Cavalier during the thunderous finale of the annual Nutcracker performances. Now it’s your chance to experience this glittery enchantment! Lake Area Ballet Theatre (LABT) is nearly sold out of tickets for their performances, which will take place in the Tritico Theatre on McNeese Campus from December 9th to 11th, but you can still snag some.
When I was little, my mom brought me to help out backstage (or at least it was a free babysitter) during the Lake Charles Ballet Society’s Nutcracker performances, and now the new generation of dancers of LABT host the ballet each year. The Nutcracker was the epitome of the Christmas season for me; I loved the exciting parlor scene full of ladies in grand dresses (you’ll see yours truly in one this year!), the delicate snowflakes dancing in a blizzard, and the army of toy soldiers battling the heinous Rat King.
Formed in 1963, the Lake Charles Ballet Society, under the direction of the late visionary Ida Winter Clarke, was the first regional ballet company in Louisiana. For over 60 years, the Ballet Society presented high quality, full-scale ballet productions that drew both local and out of state audiences and cultivated a strong foundation of professional performances for local dancers. In 2015, the Lake Area Ballet Theatre (LABT) was established by former Ballet Society dancers who picked up where the Ballet Society left off. In 2013, LABT successfully presented a revitalization of the Nutcracker ballet.
The magic of the Nutcracker performances lives in the details. Many of the costumes are original to the early productions, and inside each costume is the hand-written name of each person who’s worn it. This legacy grows in the seams and tulle of each costume, and you would likely recognize many of the names that have lived in these costumes. LABT Artistic Director Colleen Benoit danced for Lake Charles Ballet Society and after a successful career in education, she opened Lake Charles Dance Academy where she continues the tradition of quality ballet education and performances. The Nutcracker is Colleen’s annual Christmas season jubilee as well as a celebration of dancing talent in our area.
The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet set to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous score, and it premiered in Russia in 1892. The production has enjoyed enormous popularity since the 1960s in the United States, and the Lake Charles Ballet Society was one of the first ballet companies to receive permission to perform the iconic George Balanchine staging in the nation. I remember my mom telling me about her trips to New York City to watch the Balanchine performances while she furiously wrote down staging and costume notes in piles of notepads so that the Ballet Society could replicate it in Lake Charles.
The ballet follows the young girl Clara, who is given a nutcracker as a present by her godfather, the magical Drosselmeyer. She falls in love with the nutcracker, which transforms into a handsome young prince. The two travel together in a wondrous journey through the land of sweets. Spanish chocolates, Arabian coffee, and sugar plums dance in Clara’s honor. It’s truly a magical performance.
Over 125 students from across the Lake Area will perform in the Nutcracker, and this production gives local dancers the needed experience of performing on stage, especially after COVID-19 and the hurricanes shut down so many art events. You can get your tickets at www.lakeareaballettheatre.com. Performances are Thurs., Dec. 9th at 7pm, Fri., Dec. 10th at 7pm, and Sat., Dec. 11th at 2pm and 7pm. All performances are at the Tritico Theatre at McNeese.