‘Nutcracker’ Cirque style

Published 2:04 pm Thursday, December 22, 2011

Portsmouth theater offers its take on holiday classic

Visions of sugar plum fairies, battles against the Mouse King and a little girl named Clara are as much a part of the Christmas holiday as tinsel, turkey and toys.

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Those images all go into making one of the most beloved holiday classics, “The Nutcracker.”

And while dance companies everywhere will breathe life into the story, one version this season will combine ballet with a more athletic and daring manner of presentation.

That’s when the Portsmouth-based Cirque d’Art Theatre does its version of “The Nutcracker.”

“It’s our adaptation,” Pegi Wilkes, one of the directors and founder of Cirque, said. “Our kids do ballet and do acrobatics. It’s the classic ‘Nutcracker’ but we make it have a slightly different look.”

One of those unique looks comes when dancers playing the part of snowflakes do their stuff way above the ground.

“Our snowflakes will be in the air on a piece of aerial equipment,” Wilkes said. “We will have an aerial ballet in the sky. And when they come through the pine forest, we will have an original piece of circus where the trees will come alive. They will be solid green contortionists.”

The Cirque d’Art is the performing arm of the Southern Ohio Museum of Art and a labor of love for Wilkes, who grew up in a circus family whose members performed for Ringling Brothers.

“I have this background in circus art and you only perform that which you are comfortable,” she said. “There is nothing compulsory. You showcase what you have perfected.”

Right now there are approximately 240 students who study with Wilkes and her staff. Ages range from 2 years old to a great-grandmother.

“These kids have the most amazing amount of energy,” she said. “They would live here if they could. We make them go home at night. They are very, very dedicated.”

Choreographing their own productions has been staple of Cirque since the troupe created an original take on “Alice in Wonderland.”

But putting their own twist to “The Nutcracker” is the most ambitious yet.

“This is a bigger undertaking than we have ever done before just because there is the expectation of ‘The Nutcracker,’ ” Wilkes said. “When you do your own story, there is no expectation. When we bit this off to chew, we knew the expectation. It is ‘The Nutcracker’ with all the classic figures you know and love with a Cirque twist.”

Performances will be Dec. 12 and 13 at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts. For more information, visit www.shawnee.edu/off/vrc.