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Finding Minnesota: Behind The Scenes Of ‘Nutcracker’

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(credit: CBS) Angela Davis
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One of the most popular shows on stage this time of the year is “The Nutcracker.” And here in the Twin Cities, there are about nine different dance companies performing it this month.

But there’s one group that has a fascinating story, within the story — and that’s Ballet Minnesota in St. Paul, who have performed “The Classic Nutcracker” for more than two decades.

Even if you are not familiar with ballet or Russian composer Tchaikovsky, you probably know a thing or two about “The Nutcracker.”

It’s the story of a little girl named Clara who gets a toy for Christmas, only to have her brother break it.

“When it was first done, it was a flop in Russia,” said Andrew Rist, the choreographer. “Tchaikovsky didn’t even like the music. And it was recreated a few times, set on the shelf in Europe. But in America, it just took off and has been a tradition ever since.”

Tradition indeed.

In fact, Ballet Minnesota in St. Paul is about to present “The Classic Nutcracker” for the 24th year in a row.

Andrew and Cheryl Rist are the husband and wife team that started this dance company and school.

He’s a choreographer and she’s a costume designer. Both are former dancers.

“As the choreographer, he really does see the whole picture. He sees the whole picture and I zone in,” Cheryl said.

Cheryl has made hundreds of costumes over the years and most of them are more than 20 years old. She lovingly refurbishes each tutu.

The most precious of the costumes is the one that young Clara wears.

This same dress has been worn every year for the last 24 years.

“This would be a whole skirt, but because she has to drop it. Literally, 15 seconds, she comes back on stage. It just rips right off,” she said.

Just as critical as the costumes are the young dancers.

Just 13 and 14 years old, the three girls who take turns playing Clara, practice 12 to 14 hours a week for three months.

Andrew teaches them how to command the stage.

“When they first come in, they are all talented, but as they go through this, what is required of them in this role is what is required of our professional dancers,” he said.

Passion and persistence, that’s what’s required.

Many of the dancers who’ve had the role of Clara, have gone on to win college scholarships and become professional dancers.

There are four performances of Ballet Minnesota’s Classic Nutcracker.

They start this Friday and run through Sunday at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul.

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