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Kansas City Ballet Takes Its 'Nutcracker' To The Kennedy Center In Washington, D.C.

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
A scene from the Kansas City Ballet's debut performance of Devon Carney's version of 'The Nutcracker' in December 2015.

On Wednesday, the Kansas City Ballet opens the first of seven prestigious performances of “The Nutcracker” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., capping a year and a half of planning and meeting a massive logistical challenge.

Moving the entire production required four 52-foot semi trucks. Besides 30 company dancers, the Ballet brought along 12 second-company members and around 20 crew members and artistic and administrative staff.

"Then there’s the children, who we are not bringing with us," the Ballet's artistic director, Devon Carney, said in a phone call with KCUR from the Kennedy Center lobby earlier this week.

Back in September, Carney traveled to Washington with dancer and children's ballet coach Kimberly Cowan and dancer Racheal Nye, and auditioned around 160 kids.

"The whole community around Washington, D.C. knows that every year there’s a Nutcracker with an open audition involved. We got kids from all over the area – Virginia, Maryland, obviously D.C., a lot of schools," Carney said. "We chose about 110 for the roles, then started staging that the very next day."

They made another trip to finish the staging, and then a Kennedy Center staffer took over preparing the children for their roles.

Credit Devon Carney / Facebook
Devon Carney, the Kansas City Ballet's artistic director, posted this photo from the Kennedy Center on his Facebook page on November 21.

"That's a whole other cast which is actually bigger than the company," Carney said of those young performers. "Logistically that's quite significant, especially since we don’t really know these kids, as opposed to the ones from our school in Kansas City. But they’re doing great, and they’re very excited to be part of our show. The roles are good — they’re challenging but not overwhelming."

The Kennedy Center's initial invitation was for December 2016 performances, after only one season of Carney's dramatically re-envisioned version of the holiday classic.

"We didn’t really feel like we were quite ready in terms of understanding technical aspects of the show to be able to take the entire thing to the Kennedy Center," Carney said. "We decided we’d hold off and do it this year instead, which was a very wise decision. I think we’re going to be much more well-represented. We know the show – the crew knows it, the dancers know it better. There's a lot to be said about experience when you’re doing a trip like this."

Carney said he was thrilled by the outpouring of support he'd seen since news broke that the Kansas City Ballet was going to Washington.

"As soon as it was made public knowledge we were going, there were a lot of people who immediately wanted to get tickets and make the trip here to see it at the Kennedy Center," said Carney, adding that he'd also heard from people he knew when he was principal dancer at the Boston Ballet in the 1980s.

"I have dear friends coming from all over the country to see the performance here. It’s lovely to see that kind of wellspring of excitement about what’s happening with the Kansas City Ballet, and the fact that we’re here at the national theater representing Kansas City. I’m really quite taken aback by it all," he said.

"It doesn’t happen very often for a dancer to perform on the nation’s stage in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center," said Carney, who has performed there about five times. "Your name goes down in the annals of history of those who’ve had a chance to perform here. It’s quite significant, and I’m very happy for the company and for Kansas City."

As soon as Sunday's final performance ends, Carney said, crew members will begin the load-out and those semi trucks will start heading back to Kansas City on Monday. After some rest, the dancers will be ready for another opening night on December 7 at the Kauffman Center.

"We'll turn around and do it all over there," Carney said. "We have 23 shows in Kansas City to get to before Christmas Eve."

The Kansas City Ballet's "The Nutcracker," Wednesday, November 22 through Sunday, November 26 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20566, 800-444-1324; Thursday, December 7 through Sunday, December 24 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108; 816-931-8993.

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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