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Nutcracker returns to Salt Lake City after two years

SALT LAKE CITY — The Nutcracker returned to the stage in front of a live audience for the first time in two years Friday, after the pandemic interrupted what the theater calls the longest running Nutcracker in America.

The Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City was filled with lights, Christmas trees and nutcrackers Friday night for a private audience.

The show premieres Saturday to the public and runs through Dec. 26.

“We’re just so excited to have a live audience. This is what we do. We present art live to people in the theatre,” said Adam Sklute, artistic director for Ballet West which puts on the show. “And so, this last year and a half was just so difficult for us.”

The sights and sounds in the theatre are typical this time of year. Sklute says the Nutcracker has been showing there since 1953 and had a solid, unbroken run until 2020.

Shutting down operations for a time was devastating for many in the theatre arts industry.

Sklute compared on-stage performers to athletes, whose time in their profession is limited because of how difficult it is.

“The idea of having to stop for even just six months was just forever. It felt like we were never going to get back to things.”

Little by little, he said, they learned to slowly get back to dancing and rehearsing, with the help of rapid tests, distancing and masks.

Friday marked their first live audience performance of the Nutcracker since 2019 — two years that Sklute described as a “lifetime” for performers.

“To really be able to create the magic of the theatre for a live audience, with all of us on stage together and a full orchestra, there’s nothing like it. So, I’m thrilled.”

Sklute says they managed to get as many people involved as they are used to: eight different casts of leading dancers and four different casts of children. There are 77 children in one performance.

Going to the theatre, you will still see plenty reminders of the pandemic. Signs decorate the lobby, masks are required and there is an option for distanced seating.

Friday’s performance came on the day health officials identified the first positive case of the omicron variant in Utah.

“There is always that concern,” Sklute said, adding that it’s been a continuous effort to “to produce our art in the safest and healthiest manner.”

“We really feel like there is a wonderful middle ground.”

So far, the response from the community has been big. Sklute said they’re on track to have the highest ticket sales in 25 years with this show — what the theatre hopes will be the start of another long run of the Nutcracker.

“It speaks to the fact that so many of our community want to get back to seeing live performance.”

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