By Austin Atnip
Since 1981, the Young People’s Performing Arts Theatre (YPPAT) has been producing “The Nutcracker” here in Farmington for all to enjoy every other year. This year it’s back once again and better than ever. With production week here, the YPPAT are practicing daily to polish the final touches to their performance to get ready for the first show on the 6th. With performers ranging from elementary school ages to professionals participating in the production, this year is shaping up to be one of the best yet.
Kimberly Anderson is the founder of the Ballet Arts Center along with YPPAT, both located in Farmington. She opened BAC in 1979 at the age of 19 and YPPAT 2 years later. She’s been the director for both “The Nutcracker” and “The Merry Christmas Show” since then. I had the chance to interview Mrs. Anderson right before one of her busiest times of the year.
Q:”So how many years has “The Nutcracker” been around in Farmington?”
A:”Our first productions was in 1981 and the first several years we did “The Nutcracker” every year but after 3 seasons we decided that it was such an intense project that maybe we should do it every other year so we went to the every other year season. Then in around 2000 or 2001 I realized that not only did I feel kind of down in the dumps on the Decembers we were not doing “The Nutcracker” but I felt like my students were missing something too so we started back to doing it every year. After about 5 or 6 years solid, the fatigue factor set it in. It’s just such a big production so we went back to the rotating schedule. But during that time it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the organization as a whole. The reason I gave it the title “Performing Arts Theatre” was I didn’t want it to be exclusive to ballet because I believe in the whole artistic experience in singing, dancing, and acting for my students. The chances for my students being in a ballet company are very slim, but the chances of my students experiencing theatre performing arts weather if it’s musical, singing, dancing, acting with a script and lines in a college scenario or in a local community theatre, that is more applicable to my students. For a long time I had been buzzing around the idea of a Christmas production the years we were not doing “Nutcracker” and it took a leap of faith but we dove in with “The Merry Christmas Show” now YPPAT alternates. One year “The Nutcracker” ballet which is the exclusive, traditional, full length ballet. Sometimes you’ll hear “The Nutcracker Suite”, that means excerpts from the ballet, we do the full ballet. Then the next year of December we do “The Merry Christmas Show” which is a really broad spectrum holiday production which includes singing and dancing. We start with Christmas Past and then we go into the second act of “Nutcracker” because “Nutcracker” is so Christmasy and then we go into Christmas Present with singing and dancing. I feel like for my students it gives them something to work towards as well as it provides the community at large really good holiday theatre and production in their own backyard at a price they can afford versus going to St. Louis.”
Q:”Usually ballet is perceived by the general populous as something meant for girls, this year you have about 10 boys from high school to college ages participating in this years christmas production. Why do you think they were drawn to dancing?”
A:”Well it’s an interesting phenomena. First of all in our country, the culture of the United States of America, young men in dance are not as widely supported as it is in European countries. In European countries male dancers are as supported in those European countries as Americans support athletes. So that’s the first step is to get teenage and high school boys over that initial hurdle. Then once one or two boys make that leap of faith and step into new territory, other boys are watching and respond and think “Well if they can do it, I’ll give it a try”. Also I think classical ballet comes with a stigma of being boring and difficult to understand when, unfortunately some ballets, some operas, some symphoneys, can be difficult to understand but it doesn’t all have to be that way. So if you can present ballet as a dance expression that is relatable, telling a story then it’s easier for not only boys to integrate but for the audience to support it and enjoy it. So it’s a wonderful thing. I think what happens is that young men all of the sudden get to experience the joys of performing and I have hard so many times over the years of my adult life an interview of perhaps some famous movie star or some famous Shakespeare actor or Broadway actor who says “I never experienced dance or theatre until all of the sudden I was in my high school play. And when I was in my high school play because I had to take it for a credit, I got the bug and was bitten by the bug and I loved it and I wanted to pursue it”. Often it happens by chance but of course I like to think it’s the universe, the benevolent, intelligent universe guiding each of us where we need to go with paths and experiences. The fact that this particular season here in BAC as well as “The Nutcracker” cast that we have, such a profound interest by young men. I don’t think it’s an accident, I think it’s a synergy this vortex of energy and it’s exciting and one person’s excitement is contagious to another and it creates just a wonderful, positive atmosphere, it really does. And unbeknownst to you and other young men who find yourself all of the sudden thrusted on stage performing, out in the audience are impressionable little boys who are thinking “I want to do that too”, it’s wonderful.”
Q:”What effect do you feel BAC and YPPAT has had on the local community?”
A:”Oh Austin, that’s a very tough question to answer and I’ll tell you. I’ve always aspired to be an honorable leader, integrity driven. There have been times obviously where I have fallen short of that bar but I keep trying to be that person and in that process raise children with the values that I was raised by and that I find important and inspirational. You know, I have often thought that if my spirit were to soar the skies at night, that I would fly over this spot here in Farmington, Missouri and there would be a cone of golden light from this place, because I want this place to be a happy place and for the most part I think that it is. Unfortunately in this venue, it is ripe for disappointment. We all experience disappointments in our lives when we have expectations and hopes and goals and someone in my position who has to designate who has what part and who stands where, who gets to do what.I often find myself in a terrible position of disappointing someone. If I could make everyone happy, I would but I can’t. So therein lies the upbringing of a dancer into adulthood is dealing with those disappointments and learning to work through those disappointments and learning to find joy in whatever experience you have.You know it’s interesting, before I thick into the years that I am now in teaching 39 years, when my children were young I’d tell them over and over, it was one of the phrases in our family household, “No expectations, no disappointments”. Don’t have expectations of other people, just go into each experience with hopefulness and joyfulness and find happiness in what you experience.So in that aspect I hope that Ballet Arts Center has helped open the eyes of students to positive experiences as well as connect them to the history of dance. As dancers and artists, you connect yourself to the generations that went before you, you connect yourself to the generations that are coming after you, the history of the theatre, the history of the music, the history of the dance and it’s really a beautiful thing. It’s a good thing and so all the children who have grown up through this school, many are adults now and they’re the patrons of the arts, they’re the ones that are writing the checks to support Mineral Area Arts Council or “The Nutcracker”, so it’s a good thing. My mother who was born in 1925 and raised during the depression and she often talked about in her lifetime during the depression, one thing that was a constant in her life was the musical theatre because people needed that joy and hopefulness. In a time when the country was so desperate and without hope that at least people could turn away from their worries and musical theatre provided that for them. So that’s a nice thing to think that you could be a part of that for your culture and community.”
Q:”How would you want to modify the next Nutcracker production?”
A:”That’s a good question because in my book, a classic is a classic because it’s done the way it was done for years and then when you take a classical ballet or a classical symphony or a classical opera and you change it and turn it inside out, it loses what it once was and what has been for the string of so many years because it’s been what it has been all those years so it’s a classic! But you can twink things, you sure can twink things, you can modify the choreography, you can change the costuming, but I like to stick to the classics, I love the classics. I really don’t want the classics to be disrupted too much, I think it’s important. Now “The Merry Christmas Show”, that gives you the opportunity with a lot of wiggle room to make modifications but for “The Nutcracker”, it’s kind of like being a child and watching every Christmas “Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer”, if they changed it, you’d be really sad and disappointed! Because the beauty of the story is what you remember in your youth and what you grew up with. So it’s the same thing for “The Nutcracker”. Steady as we go. Stick to the classics. You can twink a little something here a little something there but keep to the integrity of what it is, honor that.”
Q:”How do you feel about the upcoming shows next weekend?”
A:”I am really excited. I have to tell you not because you’re the journalist interviewing me, but the reality of it is, never in all the years of “Nutcracker” since 1981 have I enjoyed such a large, dynamic cast of young men. This is has been so exciting this season, in this aspect it has been a big change, never before had so many young men. We have a lot of little boys and we have a lot of adult male actors, but we never had such a large group high school young men that are dancing athletically and performing so this is fabulous, absolutely fabulous. There’s always little aspects of the productions that are a little weak and it’s understandable. A lot of the production rides on the back of little children, little children! We’re asking them to do so much and remember so much but they always rise to the occasion and the support of the parents, my goodness. This production could not, could not, absolutely could not function not only the fabulous parents that support it but stage crew, wardrobe, the board of directors, everybody playing their part, it’s just amazing and I just get to be at the helm of the ship but I’m really no more important than anybody else. It’s really a fabulous organization it really, really is and that I’m very proud of.”
Q:”So is there anything else that you would like me to include in the article?”
A:”I hope that people who come to see this production can find themselves sitting in the quiet hush of the theatre, in this perfect little bubble, away from their cares and their stresses of the day and experience beauty and artistry and humour and talent and leave the production feeling lifted and light-hearted and joyful and make a good memory.”
After this sweet, compassionate, and heartfelt interview I felt honored to be one of the performers in this production and I hope that you, dear reader, come out to see “The Nutcracker” on December 6th, 7th, or one of the two performances on the 8th. Tickets are for sale at the front desk of the Civic Center in Farmington for $13 to $15 a seat. Spread Christmas cheer wherever you go and Merry Christmas to you all.