KEY WEST, Fla. — A classic holiday ballet, re-imagined to celebrate Key West’s coral reef environment, seafaring heritage and even its free-roaming roosters, has debuted in the subtropical island city.
“Nutcracker Key West” stars 15 professional dancers from around the world alongside 60 Florida Keys children and other local performers. Together they bring the timeless story to life onstage at Key West’s Tennessee Williams Theatre.
The production was conceived and created by classically trained dancer Joyce Stahl, a Key West resident who performed for 38 years with New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet.
Stahl’s “Nutcracker Key West” transforms the timeless story of young Clara’s visit to the land of the Sugarplum Fairy into an engaging island fantasy. Characters include dancing snowy egrets, shimmering fish and even a conch shell, the symbol of the Florida Keys.
“What sets this ‘Nutcracker’ apart is the fact that it is an underwater theme, and also it just has more passion, I believe, than some of the Nutcrackers I’ve seen,” said Kathy Holtgrave, the production’s ballet mistress and a longtime professional dancer. “Everybody in the production is just filled with passion for it, and I believe the audience feels that.”
Standout dance sequences include a dream battle where toy sailors protect Clara from the Rooster King, recalling Key West’s free-range chicken population. A scene set on the Florida Keys’ living coral reef features young children costumed as tumbling pink shrimp in King Neptune’s court, colorful angelfish and a school of red snapper.
The storyline also includes a dance sequence drawn from the history of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha (pronounced Ah TOE shah), shipwrecked off Key West in 1622 and humorously dubbed “”Atoeshu” in the ballet.
“The tone and the emotion that goes into an underwater ‘Nutcracker’ just takes it away — and it’s just an amazing opportunity to be a part of it,” said William Stolze of Key West, a 13-year-old dancer performing the role of the prince.
“Nutcracker Key West’s” unique elements also include museum-quality costumes designed by Stahl that are valued at more than $500,000.
Evening and matinee performances continue through Dec. 16.