A Special Nutcracker

This is the twenty-ninth year Ballet Etudes Company will present their wonderful production of The Nutcracker at the Westport Country Playhouse, but it is the first year they are offering a modified version of the holiday classic for the special needs community.

Photo by: Maria Baranova

On Saturday, December 16, at 11 a.m., the doors of the Playhouse will open to families who may never have been able to take in the magic of this ballet together—or perhaps any show in a theater. The forty-five-minute abridged Nutcracker is a Christmas wish come true for Ballet Etudes Resident Choreographer and former American Ballet Theatre soloist Christina Fagundes. She understands how these families feel; her twelve-year-old son is on the autism spectrum.

Photo by: Maria Baranova

“Children will be allowed to enjoy themselves in the theater and move around if they need to, without judgment,” says Fagundes. “We will be using narration, which helps to tell the story. The lighting will be reduced, and there will be no strobes during the battle scene. The volume of the music will be lessened. Seating and a monitor in the lobby are right outside the door, should a child need a less sensory option. There also will be a meet-and-greet with the dancers in costume after the show, which is often the favorite part for these children.”

Photo by: Maria Baranova

Fagundes previously choreographed Carnival of the Animals with the special needs audience in mind, and the premiere at the Playhouse in 2016 paved the way for this new Nutcracker offering. Nanette Vallas, Ballet Etudes Founder and Director, comments, “Presenting the Ballet Etudes Nutcracker to an especially receptive and enthusiastic community is extremely gratifying. Seeing the faces and emotional response of the children and their families at our meet-and-greet with the cast, following the Carnival of the Animals last year, was the inspiration to continue this newly designed tradition. We, the dancers and staff, were so moved by the genuinely joyful reception we received from the audience.”

Photo by: Maria Baranova

A large donation from an anonymous donor as well as a contribution from Swim Angelfish, which offers swim therapy, helped bring this dream to fruition. “Kudos to the board and Nanette Vallas for finding sponsorship and making this happen,” says Fagundes. “We also are so grateful to the Playhouse, a Westport jewel, for opening their doors to this community. These kids are just like regular kids; they want to feel the magic. And these families are so grateful when they have an experience that is joyful. How much more glorious can you get than Tchaikovsky and this beautiful theater?”

Vallas adds, “We look forward to presenting abbreviated special needs performances with all of our productions in the future.”

Expect dancing in the aisles next Saturday morning at the Playhouse, and it will be every bit as magical as the dancing on stage.

Tickets for special needs organizations and families are free, but registration is required to reserve appropriate seating. Please contact the Ballet Etudes Company at (203) 354-9414 or events@balletetudescompany.com to reserve seats

Full length productions of The Nutcracker will be presented on December 9, 10 and 16 at 1 pm and 4 pm. Tickets for these performances are available for purchase at the Westport Country Playhouse box office (203) 227-4177 or on their website at www.westportplayhouse.org. Adults: $45 Children: $25.


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