'Nutcracker' returns to Farthing
It's more than a Sugar Plum fairy and a glittery winter wonderland. It's a High Country holiday tradition. Come this weekend, Studio K's production of Tchaikovsky-scored ballet, "The Nutcracker," pirouettes its way back to the Farthing stage and you can be part of the tradition.
"Families come back year after year," Studio K director Cay Harkins said. "We have a lot of people now that, instead of giving gifts ... give them tickets to 'The Nutcracker.'"
From the little mice to the Nutcracker himself, about 325 dancers will grace the stage by the time the curtain falls Sunday. It's more than a show. It's a production, complete with a 7-foot tall teddy bear and confetti cannons and a snow machine, but it's the story that continues to entrance all ages.
Based on "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffman, "The Nutcracker" is the story of Clara, whose Christmas gift, a nutcracker, comes to life and takes her on an adventure through the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.
"We have people with infants sitting in their laps ... saying this child sat through the whole thing and watched the entire time," Harkins said. "It's just magical. It's a warm, fuzzy production ... you've just spent two hours where you've not thought of your woes and cares."
And this year's production is particularly special to Harkins, whose own daughter dances the part of Clara: Lindsey Harkins Ray, who also teaches at the studio. "I'm very proud of her," she said.
"I'm just carrying on the family tradition," Ray laughed.
It will be her first time dancing the part, and she couldn't be more thrilled to follow in her sisters' dance steps.
"People ask, 'Are you nervous?' It's really nothing I'm nervous about," Ray said. "It's really just part of the Harkins Christmas."
And it's not just a Harkins tradition. Harkins will be joined by longtime Studio K alumnus Matt Backe. The only imported dancer in the program, Backe's portrayal of titular role, like the show itself, is a High Country tradition.
"This is my eighth year in the role, ninth with the studio," Backe said.
A 2007 theater major at Appalachian State University (with a dance minor), Backe has traveled the United States working behind the scenes at places like Utah Festival Opera Company. Each new job he takes, however, has one stipulation. "I black out the second week of December," he said.
Currently, he's the wardrobe supervisor at Virginia Stage Company, working on a production of "A Christmas Carol."
"But I can't get into the Christmas spirit until I've done 'The Nutcracker,'" he said.
Even the snow that greeted him when he returned to Boone Sunday wasn't enough.
"But being in rehearsal and hearing the music has changed my mood 180 degrees," he said.
And it's been that way since childhood.
"I was 10 or 11 and I saw, I think it was the New York City Ballet's production on a video tape and fell in love with the story and the movement," Backe said. "I was already in dance and found an audition for the Civic Ballet in Asheville, and I went out and auditioned."
And that's when it started.
"In 10 years, I've only gone one Christmas without a production of 'The Nutcracker' and even then we watched it on TV," he said.
He hopes Studio K's show will do for its audience what the ballet did for him as a child, instill in them passion.
"A love for dance," he said. "A love for the arts. For people that do this kind of thing.... I hope that it opens people's hearts and minds to the beauty that surrounds us," he said.
And he's already making plans to come back next year.
After all, it's a rare opportunity for him to return to his first love: Dance.
"And it's gotten a lot better," Backe said. "There's a very professional air, even with it being a youth ballet and a small company."
The ballet happens Dec. 10 at 8 p.m., Dec. 11 at 7 p.m., and Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. in Farthing Auditorium on the Appalachian State University campus. Tickets are $9 for students and $11 for adults and are available at the Farthing Box Office by visiting or calling (828) 262-4046.