Eight Counts Ballet Company premieres first-ever onstage production of “The Nutcracker”


Maia Spoto/Daily Senior Staffer

Angel Jordan. She and Creative Director Amanda De la Fuente organized Eight Counts Ballet Company’s first onstage performance of “The Nutcracker,” premiering in January.

Charlotte Ehrlich, Assistant Campus Editor

Last December, Eight Counts Ballet Company filmed an unofficial production of “The Nutcracker.” One year (and one month) later, the company will perform the holiday classic in McCormick Auditorium.

Medill sophomore and Executive Director Angel Jordan and Communication sophomore and Company Manager Amanda de la Fuente recruited new dancers, strategized new marketing tactics and hired a student-run band since the company’s founding last fall, all in time for the group’s upcoming January onstage debut.

The company’s executive members implemented lessons from their virtual production — which Jordan said was “goofy” — when planning this year’s show, which is open to all Northwestern students regardless of prior dancing or acting experience.

Jordan said Eight Counts is replacing stereotypical dances and scenes with less offensive reinterpretations this year — a significant change from the traditional performance.

In Act Two, the main character, Clara, travels with a prince to the Land of Sweets, where representatives from different lands greet and entertain their guests. Performers portray citizens from countries like Spain and Russia, who gift Clara classical gifts from their homeland. 

For example, actors who play Chinese characters are often white, but dress in stereotypical Chinese clothing and use makeup to resemble typical Chinese facial features. 

“If we want to change any part that doesn’t continue to proliferate these stereotypes and doesn’t continue to tell the same narrative, it would be that part,” Jordan said. “In order to do it differently, we needed to change the concept behind it.” 

So, Jordan, de la Fuente and other executive members decided to make a change.

They played the traditional “national” music Tchaikovsky wrote for the production out loud, asking cast members what they thought the melodies sounded like if they had never known of the music’s racist origins.

“It’s tough to tell sometimes if a piece of choreography or music is culturally appropriative or culturally appreciative,” de la Fuente said. “But, I don’t feel comfortable being called out for having a racist production, so we changed some things around.” 

Actors came up with descriptors like pixies, berries and shadows, and choreographers modified the original blocking to match their vision, a process Jordan called “creating a land of magic.” 

Both Jordan and de la Fuente said cast members — especially beginners — dove into the production’s artistic process, designing a unique vision for their characters, participating in creative brainstorming and working cohesively with new scene partners every rehearsal. 

“Our beginners are probably the most amazing people on campus,” Jordan said. “They show up at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning to do something they’ve never done before with such energy and excitement.”

She said several first-year cast and crew members encouraged friends and peers to audition for or take open classes with Eight Counts, giving them hints and helpful tips that the company’s executive board had provided a week earlier. 

Communications senior Mako Yamamoto said she rediscovered her love for ballet through Eight Counts’ open audition policy for “The Nutcracker,” a show she’s danced in since age three. Now playing Clara, Yamamoto said the show and the company feel like “home base.”

“The Nutcracker gives me back that childlike excitement for Christmas and the winter season,” she said. “It’s tough to keep that as you get older, so it’s been really nice to revisit.” 

The production will premiere on Jan. 6, and the company will perform the show again the following evening. As so many NU students remain at home after Thanksgiving Break, Jordan said the company selected a January date to draw as large of an audience as possible to the production and welcome the school community back from vacation.

“I hope everyone gets a little bit more extra holiday laughter and joy right before going into what can be one of the most depressing quarters of the school year,” Jordan said.

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Twitter: @charlottehrlich

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