“The Colonial Nutcracker,” 20-year tradition, returns to Brooklyn

December 8, 2015 Jaime DeJesus
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A nutcracker tradition continues to grow in Brooklyn.

There have been countless iterations of the timeless holiday performance. But Artistic Director at Westchester Ballet Center for the Performing Arts Rose-Marie Menes, who knows the beauty of “The Nutcracker” as much as anyone, over two decades ago created a way to show and tell the performance with new twists. She has brought her show, “The Colonial Nutcracker” to Brooklyn College for over 20 years.

The unique take on the classic Tchaikovsky ballet features some recognizable elements such as the Mouse King, but it’s the appearance of American soldiers, a battle and cannon — and the setting, colonial Yorktown — along with era-appropriate costumes that separate it from the pack.

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It was a bit of trial and error to create a production that would engage a younger audience. “When I did it for the first time, I was just doing it full length without narration, but most children didn’t understand what was going on or found it boring,” Menes explained. “Then I started putting narration to it. We did it once and someone said that it was the greatest idea. The children were spellbound. They started to understand the story.”

The narration was a pivotal change along with opening the show up for audience participation. “There is interaction that they won’t have in other theater,” she said.nutcrackerFor a show to be going strong for 20 years it has to have riveting moments, and according to Menes, some of those include emotional scenes such as one featuring a broken wooden doll. “Audience responds to feeling. They feel hurt and bad,” she said. “The Mouse King battle is also very exciting. The dancers in the second act are great. The sugar plums are excellent.”

The special touch of Nino Novellino, who designs sets and costumes, also gives the show a distinct look. “He made us eight beautiful mouse heads for the children with long tails and little red shirts. They’re quite beautiful,” she added.

The dancers consist of both professional dancers and students as Menes, who began her ballet training at the age of seven, is the founder of the Westchester Ballet Center for the Performing Arts.

At first, Menes — who had danced at City Center and there become familiar with performing “The Nutcracker” — was hesitant to return to the classic ballet. “When I moved to Westchester, it was suggested that I should do another Nutcracker show,” she recalled, “but when you’re 35 and have been doing it since 17 years old, that’s not what you want to do for the rest of your life. So at first, I said no.”

However, her love for the neighborhood and culture, made her quickly change her tune.

“Once I got to know Westchester and visited colonial houses, it was beautiful,” Menes went on. “I said to my husband that it would be great to do a colonial Nutcracker.”

For Menes and the crew, performing at Brooklyn College for over two decades has been a satisfying experience. “I think they’re wonderful,” she said. ‘We’ve been there so many years, we know all the people that run the theater. It’s like home.”

“The Colonial Nutcracker” will be performed on Sunday, December 13 at 2 p.m. at the Walt Whitman Theater in Brooklyn College, 2900 Bedford Avenue. Tickets start at $18. For more information, visit www.brooklyncenter.org.

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