BILLINGS — We all know the music, know the moves, know that Christmas isn’t quite Christmas without the Nutcracker.
But COVID-19 has brought live theater to a screeching halt. The Alberta Bair can’t host its customary Nutcracker performances, so Billings’ School for Classical Ballet is stepping in with four live online shows this weekend on a make-shift studio stage at the Montana Dance Center.
“We’re really lucky that we have this really big room," said Leigh Schanfein, one of the show's performers, who also serves as a co-director and choreographer. "It’s really comfortable, we’re very familiar with it. We already know the floor. We don’t have the grandeur of a theater and all the fun that comes with that, but this is also a pretty darn good alternative.”
“Everybody wants it to be a success, so if you see anything not going well, people are willing to step in and fill holes and help someone with their hair or whatever," echoed Tiffany Wardell, another co-director and choreographer. "So I know it’s going to be a success because the show must go on.”
Schanfein, who recently re-located to Billings after a professional career in New York City, even recruited two NYC friends to help - Nile Baker and Kyle Gerry.
"They’ve been great," said SCB executive director Julia Marble Blass, "and I think it’s really fun for the children here to see male dancers more regularly.”
The performances will look a little different than die-hard fans are used to - Wardell and Schanfein have had to change choreography in a number of scenes to conform with COVID protocols, which the company takes very seriously.
“That’s been an added challenge this year doing the Nutcracker because I’ve never had to perform in a mask, which these girls are," said Wardell.
“We’re separating all the kids in the four different studios," Marble Blass added, "so once they’re on stage, they’re taken back to their area and will stay in that area so there’s not too many in a room.”
But at it’s essence, this will still be the Nutcracker - a ballet that still holds a special place in every dancers heart.
“For whatever reason, it just persists," said Schanfein. "Kids who have never seen it before automatically love it, and the ones who’ve done it all growing up through school, they still love it. There’s just something about it.”
And it will likely mean more this year, when so much of normal life has been taken away, than ever.
“It’s huge, really huge," Marble Blass said. "They didn’t get to do recital - I’m getting teary-eyed. Children love to perform, and a dancer’s life, it’s not really long, your opportunity to continue dancing. So, the Nutcracker is a big deal to a lot of people.”
And thus, the show will go on.
There will be four performances: Friday and Saturday nights at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday matinee at 2:00 p.m.; and a Sunday matinee at 3:00 p.m. Ticket prices range from $30 for a single livestream to $60 for a large family gathering. You can buy them here, and the link will be emailed to you after the purchase is complete.