The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 24, 2013

'Nutcracker' meets 'North Woods': Production fuses local history with holiday classic

Ballet company fuses local and state history with classic holiday production

A hundred years ago in Mankato, kids would take their sleds to Main Street hill and shoot down the steep, slippery slope.

A scene in Fine Arts School of Ballet's “Nutcracker” will bring such a nostalgic scene alive, as Uncle Drosselmeier's niece, Marie, sleds down the hill, ends up in the middle of the river and becomes surrounded by coyotes and cougars.

… Don't remember a “Marie,” or cougars, in the classic “Nutcracker” ballet? Don't recall either the 19th-century production being set in Mankato?

Very true. But Director Annmarie Carlson Drake said she wanted to put a fresh spin on the holiday classic by creating a storyline unique to Mankato, New Ulm and Minnesota history, set in 1921.

So this summer, while keeping the same iconic music, Carlson Drake got to work writing a “A North Woods Nutcracker” that would feature historic characters such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Mankato-born soprano Florence Macbeth, the Hubbards and Maud Hart Lovelace.

“I thought the Fitzgeralds would be great party guests,” Carlson Drake said.

In addition to the company's own ballet dancers, she's soliciting the help of area actors and historical re-enactors (including Lolly Foy and Susan Hynes) to bring the characters alive. The ballet also will feature belly dancers because of Minnesota's Lebanese community at the time.

“It's really different,” she said.

The Blue Earth County Historical Society has provided historical research and photos, as well as period costuming and backdrop details to ensure authenticity. Randy Dinsmore created three massive backdrops to set the scenes: "Sledding down Main Street Hill,” “Como Park Conservatory,” and the interior of the Hubbard House.

“I really owe Randy,” Carlson Drake said. “They are better than the professional ones I've seen.”

The story will unfold like this:

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