For many, the Nutcracker is a staple of the holiday season. And with good reason. It’s a fantasia of color and sound and, of course, dance. But for some, all of that can be a bit much. That’s why one Georgia ballet company has made the Nutcracker accessible to all.
If you’ve ever seen the Nutcracker, live or on TV, you know it’s quite the spectacle. Dancers leap through the air, candy and toys come to life: it's meant to dazzle.
But for many with special needs, dazzle can turn into sensory overload. Madison Lynn dances the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and she has a close friend she really wants to see the show. He has autism.
“I've always wanted to bring him to a performance because he loves music,” Lynn said. “He loves all the sets. And we show him pictures all the time. He loves the design of it. But it's so loud. It's like when he's at the movies, he won't go out in public to listen to movies because of the overwhelming noise. And especially like when you have large groups, people clapping. It's just it makes him really anxious.”
That might have been the case for 17-year-old Jalen Moultry, too. Moultry is a student at the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism.
“I’ve seen it on TV, the old one, but I never been to the one live in the Lucas Theatre. It’s in downtown Savannah,” he said.
The Lucas is where the Savannah Ballet Theatre staged a special, low-sensory version of the Nutcracker last week.
“Even the curtain opening can make somebody so excited,” said Abby McCuen, the ballet’s advancement director. “And if they cannot handle that excitement, they don't know how to express it. So this is us muting the music a little bit and the lighting and just making it easier for them to be a part of it.”
The live orchestra was not amplified, so the music wasn’t quite as loud. The theater was not totally dark. And there was no need for the audience to sit still or be quiet.
“In a movie or a ballet or a concert or something [the audience making noise] might, you know, get a lot of heads to turn and kind of annoy some of the people at the show around you,” said Jack O’Connor, director of the Matthew Reardon Center. “But again, here it's you know, all the students kind of understand it. All the staff working with the students understand it. So it didn't raise any eyebrows at all.”
O’Connor said the students at the center don’t have many opportunities to see live theater or dance, and he hopes there will be more in the future.
McCuen with the ballet said they hope to put on more productions like this.
“We owe it to the next generation of children, and artists, and just to educate them and introduce them to things,” she said. “To me, it just makes the world a better place.”
As for the audience? Jalen Moultry offered a glowing review:
“It was very spectacular indeed,” he said. “Not to mention the cool music and everything. Everything has been, well, in a word, spectacular.”