In the late nineteenth-century, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky debuted his newest work, a ballet titled The Nutcracker.

Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Since its premiere, The Nutcracker has gone on to become a classic, beloved by generations of people around the globe.

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Over a century later, concert pianist Alexandra Dariescu is taking some of the themes from Tchaikovsky’s work to places he himself could have never imagined.

“This is very much The Nutcracker for the 21st Century,” said Dariescu all the way from across the Atlantic. She’s in London taking a respite from touring, having recently completed performances in China and the Middle East.

Dariescu’s The Nutcracker and I combines elements of her personal journey to become a professional concert pianist and the universal themes and imagery of The Nutcracker. 

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Planning on going? Here’s what you need to know!
• The show is on July 6 and starts at 7:30pm.
• Tickets can be purchased at GretnaMusic.org.
• All ages show.

The presentation is what sets Dariescu’s production apart from anything else. Her masterful piano playing is paired with the dancing of a classical ballerina. Both the dancer and Dariescu perform behind a sheer screen onto which custom animations are projected and then interacted with by the live performers.

The show will be making its North American debut in Mt. Gretna on July 6as a part of Gretna Music’s 2019 Summer season. (You can purchase tickets at GretnaMusic.org.)

The trailer for The Nutcracker and I
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Bringing The Idea To Life

Years of playing some of the biggest concert halls in the world shed some light on a problem that Dariescu saw time and time again.

“As a concert pianist I travel all around the world and the biggest issue that I found is that the average age of our audiences is not as young as we’d like it to be, and the constant problem is you can’t get the younger kids into the concert hall for classical shows,” she said. “I knew that I wanted something to make a difference and change that.

Dariescu began trying to develop a show that would appeal to modern, younger audiences.

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“I spent a couple of years talking to promoters all around the world, trying to think how can we make this different.”

Through this brainstorming process, Dariescu came to the conclusion that the best step to take would be by embracing and using technology.

“I knew that technology; bringing cool technology into the concert hall, would be something really, really special.”

That technology would come in the form of custom animation digitally projected in front of both Dariescu and ballerina Désirée Ballantyne-Grove, who spent seventeen years as a soloist with the English National Ballet.

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This means that both performers are seeing the show backwards, making things challenging especially for Ballantyne-Grove.

“It took some getting used to but then you just sort of click into and you get it,” she says.

Dariescu partnered with Yeast Culture, a film and animation studio based in London, to create the animations seen in the show. 

“We definitely didn’t want to do anything Disney-style, and we wanted something incredibly original and simple at the same time,” said Dariescu.

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The first step in creating the animations was to record Ballantyne-Grove dancing with other performers standing in for soon-to-be animated counterparts.

Rotoscoping (a technique where animators trace over motion picture footage, frame by frame) was done to give the animation a lifelike feel.

The animations used during the 50-minute show consists of 35,000 individual images, each one drawn digitally by hand. What started as a modest team of six animators quickly grew to 49 due to the volume of work.

“I haven’t managed to meet all of the animators because they were all around the world working like crazy!” laughed Dariescu.

Accompanying the show is an audiobook narrated by Lindsey Russell, the presenter of the British children’s television show, Blue Peter, the longest running children’s tv show in the world.

The Nutcracker and I. Photo by Mark Allan

Hitting The Road

Doing a full-scale performance of The Nutcracker can require hundreds of people.

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That’s another thing that makes The Nutcracker and I so unique. The cutting-edge show can travel just about anywhere in the world and uses a skeleton crew of only three people: Dariescu, Ballantyne-Grove, and a technical producer.

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Such an efficient approach has allowed Dariescu to take her creation on the road and perform all over the world; in both cities that are home to massive world class concert halls and locations that otherwise do not typically see the privilege of having such performances visit their corner of the globe.

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The Nutcracker and I has been performed in front of a wide range of global audiences including in China, Australia, and the Middle East.

While all of these audiences come from vastly different cultural backgrounds, it’s the show’s rich story and themes that audience members can connect to anywhere around the globe.

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Dariescu’s clear vision for her show has carried over into what she hopes those who see it take with them after they leave the concert hall.

“I would love them to be inspired, to dare to dream, and to see that classical music can be accessible to anyone.”

Tickets to see The Nutcracker and I on July 6 can be purchased at GretnaMusic.org.

This post was written as part of an advertising partnership with Gretna Music. Learn more about LebTown advertising policies here.