From the left, Molly Wittwer, Sabrina Sierens and Nina Cucinella, of The Macomb Ballet Company, perform “The Nutcracker” outside of the Royal Park Hotel in downtown Rochester, since the pandemic prevented a live theater show.

From the left, Molly Wittwer, Sabrina Sierens and Nina Cucinella, of The Macomb Ballet Company, perform “The Nutcracker” outside of the Royal Park Hotel in downtown Rochester, since the pandemic prevented a live theater show.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki


COVID pushes ‘The Nutcracker’ and Shakespeare to the web

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 18, 2020

 Andalee White performs the role of Arabian Coffee during the filming of The Macomb Ballet Company’s “The Nutcracker,” which will be available for download on the company’s website.

Andalee White performs the role of Arabian Coffee during the filming of The Macomb Ballet Company’s “The Nutcracker,” which will be available for download on the company’s website.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

 Jenna Altman danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Macomb Ballet Company’s reimagining of “The Nutcracker” this year. Sabrina Sierens, seated, plays the role of Clara.

Jenna Altman danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Macomb Ballet Company’s reimagining of “The Nutcracker” this year. Sabrina Sierens, seated, plays the role of Clara.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

METRO DETROIT — On a blustery cold afternoon in December, 17-year-old Jenna Altman braved the freezing elements in a tiara and pointe shoes to perform the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

COVID-19 may have taken her stage and left her with only the patio outside the Royal Park Hotel, but the virus wasn’t about to take away the longstanding tradition of “The Nutcracker” ballet altogether.

“I’d be very sad if we couldn’t do anything,” a shivering Altman said between scenes. “At least we can keep the spirit going.”

The Eisenhower High School senior has danced “The Nutcracker” for years with The Macomb Ballet Co., and the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy is not one to take lightly. But earlier this year, COVID-19 threatened to close the curtains on her final chance to perform with the company before she takes off for college.

“September came, and all the theaters closed, and we told the dancers, ‘Look, we’re going to do something,’” said Rich Borngesser, the president of the Macomb Ballet Co. board of directors. “We decided to move forward (with ‘The Nutcracker’). We said, ‘We’re going to social distance and follow the guidelines, but we’re going to be prepared, and whenever we can find a place to perform, we’re going to go.’”

Unfortunately, the pandemic only worsened as fall turned to winter and, despite the dancers’ intense rehearsals, “The Nutcracker “ looked to be in trouble. But that would’ve been a disappointment for everyone, on- and offstage. Luckily, the Royal Park Hotel, in downtown Rochester, allowed the company to capture the performance on video just outside the building.

“‘The Nutcracker’ — that’s our bread and butter. We sell out five shows a year, and the numbers grow every year. We decided we can’t take a year off,” Borngesser said. “We decided to film this and make it available for download from our website. We applied for two different grants to do that, which we got, and so here we are. The dancers have been out here all day in the cold, and they’re rocking it.”

Borngesser hopes fans of the ballet will make a donation to the Macomb Ballet Co. and download the filmed performance to watch from the safety of their home.

After all, for so many, “The Nutcracker” is a holiday staple. It definitely has been for Altman.

“The reason I wanted to be in ‘The Nutcracker’ is because of seeing it for so many years, and it’s inspired me to become the dancer I am today,” she said. “I’m just happy we can at least do the filming.”

To learn more about the film, visit macombballet.org.

The Birmingham Village Players are offering audiences at-home holiday entertainment, too, with just a few clicks.

The Village Players’ Marcus Laban, of Warren, stars in William Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” But with the stage lights dimmed amid the state’s pandemic shutdown, the players opted to reimagine the show as an old-world radio drama.

“The premise is that we discover these ‘lost tapes’ in the vaults of our theater,” explained Laban in a press release. “After restoring them to the best of our ability, we’ve dropped them on our YouTube channel for all to enjoy.”

The radio drama follows the misadventures of two young men from Verona and the women they’ve fallen for. It includes a lady in disguise, a scene-stealing dog and a band of valley girl outlaws.

The comedy is told in five acts, which can be listened to in one go or at separate times. It features a radio-style narrator to explain the actions that can’t be seen, and each act includes a light-hearted “commercial” from a “sponsor” from years gone by.

“This has been such fun,” said Jaclyn Cherry, of Los Angeles, California, in a press release. She’s a former member of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival touring company who plays Launce in the production. “It’s such a creative way to present this show.”

This isn’t the first time Laban has directed a production of one of Shakespeare’s plays, but he said it’s definitely the most unusual. He’s proud of the cast of BVP members, and friends of the Village Players locally and abroad who donated their time and professional expertise to make the show happen.

“The Zoom recording sessions and all of the editing have been a lot of work,” said Laban. “But it’s been worth it. I hope everyone has a chance to tune in.”

“The Two Gentlemen of Verona - A Radio Drama” is available anytime on the Birmingham Village Players’ YouTube channel: YouTube.com/BirminghamVillagePlayers. No purchase is necessary.

While Orchestra Sono, the newest iteration of the Birmingham Bloomfield Orchestra, may have already wrapped up its virtual performance from mezzo soprano Elizabeth Mitchell titled “Winter Reflections,” streamed live Dec. 20, Executive Director Andrew Neer said visitors can still enjoy a recording of the program, which includes seasonal favorites such as Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and the classic carol “O Holy Night.”

“We have one other performance with (pianist) Angela Theis from earlier this fall that was part of our virtual series,” Neer said of the concert available on the Orchestra Sono website and on YouTube. “We also have two more virtual performances scheduled for the new year.”

For more information, including a schedule of upcoming performances, visit orchestrasono.org.