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Dueling ballets

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Prepare for 'Nutcracker' overload in Missoula this holiday season

No, you're not seeing double this holiday season. Two ballet companies are offering productions of "The Nutcracker" this season, amid qualms that Missoula isn't big enough for both of them.

"This town isn't big enough for all the artistic endeavors we want to participate in," said Stacey Dykeman, president of the Garden City Ballet Company.

The nonprofit Garden City Ballet plans performances of the perennially popular dance Dec. 15-17 in the MCT Center for the Performing Arts. The dates and venue are new for the company; for 15 years Garden City Ballet staged its "Nutcracker" on Thanksgiving weekend, in the Wilma Theatre.

But when the company's artistic director, Jan Snow, retired last year, board members weren't able to regroup quickly enough to stage their "Nutcracker," she said. The new 21st Century Dance Company associated with the Virginia Wirth Dance Studio quickly moved into the slot, and the venue, with a less traditional version of the Christmas ballet.

This year, though, Garden City has University of Montana dance professor Michele Antonioli at its helm and plans to revive its traditional version of the classic, Dykeman said.

The choreography will differ somewhat from the long-running version; the company opted not to buy Snow's choreography from her, Dykeman said.

Still, she said, the new "Nutcracker," like the old, will follow tradition closely. "It's very basically the same."

The 21st Century production, in contrast, offers a Christmas cardinal instead of a snow queen, and has added characters such as Ice and Frost, two soloists. Its grand pas de deux at the end of the performance has been accelerated, as well, offering "lots of pizazz," director Phyllis Greenwood said.

Audiences got their first taste of the company's revised "Nutcracker" last Christmas and, if anyone disliked the changes she made, Greenwood never heard their complaints, she said.

"Many people, parents, had told me they were hoping for some kind of change," she said. "They found it very fresh and new and different."

Hearing that Garden City was reviving its version of the ballet gave Greenwood no cause for alarm, she said.

"Big cities have 20 ('Nutcrackers'), and Missoula can certainly handle two," she said.

Dykeman isn't so certain, and for that reason she approached Greenwood about joining forces for the ballet. But the companies' goals are very different, she said: Not only is Garden City's version true to tradition, its proceeds will benefit scholarships for dance students, while 21st Century is a for-profit company putting on a revamped "Nutcracker" to benefit the Virginia Wirth Dance Studio.

"She wanted to do a community production that involved several different studios," Greenwood acknowledged. "But as far as … producing a beautiful production, we felt it was in the best interests of children performing to produce under one studio. We appreciate her invitation, and we declined."

Not doing "The Nutcracker" was never an option for Garden City, Dykeman said; it's the one performance dance companies can rely on to attract audiences. Whether that will hold true for her company remains to be seen, but Dykeman and company have their turned-out toes crossed in hopes of a good showing, she said.

"We'll just have to wait and see, I guess," she said.

Reporter Sherry Jones can be reached at 523-5299 or at sjones@missoulian.com.

If you're interested

Performances of "Nutcracker 2000" take place at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Wilma Theatre, 131 S. Higgins Ave. Matinee tickets cost $10 adults, $8 children and seniors; evening performance tickets cost $10-$15, available at the door and at the Virginia Wirth studio, 2825 Santa Fe Court, 728-6090.

The Garden City Ballet's "The Nutcracker" takes the stage at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts Friday through Sunday, Dec. 15-17. A special gala fund-raiser is set for Friday evening; other performances are at 7 p.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For information call 273-2467.

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