The hum of the violins tuning in the pit beneath the stage creates a buzz in the auditorium of Waco Hall. Tutus are being fluffed, angel wings are straightened, the Mouse King has his crown and the curtain is about to go up for the Waco Symphony Orchestra’s annual “The Nutcracker” performance on December 9 and 10.
This holiday season the symphony is hosting two performances for the first time —Saturday, Dec. 9 night at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. — and is incorporating never-before-seen set designs for the stage. Alongside both shows will be a nutcracker gift shop, with nutcrackers big and small, as well as a photo-op after the Sunday performance with The Sugar Plum Fairy and Soldier with the purchase of an additional ticket.
“I think with ‘The Nutcracker’, so many people have that cherished memory of attending with their family when they were younger,” Executive Director of the Waco Symphony Association Carolyn Bess said. “For many people, it becomes a tradition that they do every year or every couple of years together, but we hope that we’ll be able to introduce some new audiences to this as well.”
For Bess, “The Nutcracker” has been a family tradition since she was a little girl. Her aunt, Lois Kannwischer, was a clarinetist in the Houston Symphony Orchestra so her family would pack up the car and make the drive down south to see her perform. Bess said this was one of her most vivid and wonderful childhood memories.
Though Bess has seen this production many times, violinist Kristin Oppenheim Mortenson has performed Tchaikovsky’s melodies over 100 times but has never seen a performance as an audience member, only by glances from the pit.
“I know [‘The Nutcracker’] well and I love it dearly,” Oppenheim Mortenson said. “It’s just like an old friend.”
Oppenheim Mortenson said her favorite part to watch in “The Nutcracker” is the Arabian Dance, but a close second is when the angels come out on stage.
For seven-year-old Libby Reitmeier, it’s her favorite part too, because that’s her time to shine on the stage. Like Bess, Libby has been creating her childhood memories of “The Nutcracker” with her nana, attending every performance since she was three. But now, Libby is leaving the fabric foldable seats in the audience for a place on the stage with a white gold costume, angel wings and a halo on top of her head. She said her favorite part about being in the production is that she is able to dance on stage.
Libby and other dancers at Joy’s School of Dance have been preparing for “The Nutcracker” since October. Ballet Frontier, a classical ballet company in Fort Worth, has partnered with the symphony for five years providing professional ballet dancers for the upper roles and choreographing the children’s dances. Bess said the Waco Symphony Orchestra is the only “Nutcracker” performance in Central Texas with a live band.
“Playing with a live orchestra is very special,” Oppenheim Mortenson said. “It’s special for us because we enjoy doing it, but for the dancers, there is an energy that you get.”
The week of the show the orchestra and the dancers have just two rehearsals to get the tempo and feel of the music right. For the dancers and the pit, there has to be trust in one another to make the performance seamless. Oppenheim Mortenson said even though there is a lot of preparation necessary for this performance, she still gets excited every year.
Year after year Waco Hall sells out “The Nutcracker”, so with these additional performances Bess said she hopes to include more Wacoans who have not been to the symphony before. For tickets and more information about the performances visit the Waco Symphony Orchestra’s website.
“‘The Nutcracker’ for me really is assurance in the spirit of the holidays,” Bess said. “I love this time of year and all the preparation that goes into this performance. So even though there are a lot of logistics and things to figure out, it doesn’t really feel like work just because it has such a wonderful outcome.”