Ballet dancers are normally busy this time of year with various productions of The Nutcracker, but they are not able to be because theaters are still closed. So this December, ballet soloist, choreographer, and artistic director of BalletCollective, Troy Schumacher, is putting on a production in a mansion — the Wethersfield Estate in Dutchess County — not unlike the one in which the ballet’s first act takes place.
Schumacher dreamed up this guided experience of the holiday ballet as dancers have had classes and practiced choreography on their computers. But Schumacher has conceived of a way to bring the ballet to life with safety guidelines in place, presenting the full-length Tchaikovsky masterpiece within a setting that could have been created for the ballet alone. The estate sprawls over 1,000 acres and was the passion project of Chauncey Devereux Stillman (1907–1989), an “art collector, horseman, garden enthusiast, and conservationist.”
Members of the New York City Ballet, including Sara Mearns, Tyler Angle, Ashley Laracey, Taylor Stanley, and others, will be on hand as the audience roams through the mansion and grounds, witnessing the party, battle, the snow ballet, and the Land of the Sweets up close.
“I was given a tour of Wethersfield in mid-September to brainstorm about presenting a performance next summer in their famous gardens,” Schumacher told me. “At the end of the tour, I was, by chance, brought into the house. Something immediately felt magical, and I asked myself, Is this the set of The Nutcracker?”
The seed was planted and then at the end of the summer, he said, “there seemed to be a resurgence of small, intrepid performing-arts events. I had just premiered what was potentially the first full, live ballet in America since the start of the shutdown. I felt incredibly accomplished but had started worrying about what would happen when the seasons changed and the theaters remained closed. What would happen to the holidays? To my colleagues giving themselves ballet barres in their kitchens for 12 more months? I had been searching for the perfect opportunity to give something back to the community and provide as many people as I could with work and artistic purpose again.”
It’s a daunting challenge, and as much as Schumacher has pulled off feats of daring and success with his BalletCollective in the past, he has never had a challenge like this. “I am currently doing 12 months’ work in 12 weeks!” he said. “We are reimagining a quintessential holiday tradition in an incredible new way. A huge feat, but we are also doing it in the age of COVID, so the logistics are immense, with artist and guest safety and guideline compliance being our highest priority.”
However, before you try to book your trip to the Land of the Sweets, note that, for safety reasons, invitations are limited to underwriters of the production as well as some families personally affected by the pandemic. But, like everything these days, it will be streamed live.