The longest-running-show in the Rio Grande Valley will look a little different this year.
The Nutcracker, a beloved holiday show put on by the Rio Grande Valley Ballet company, will put on its 48th annual performance this weekend, and to abide by social distancing precautions amid the pandemic, all 60 performers will be wearing masks.
To further ensure safety, attendees will be seated in every other row, with three seats on both sides of each party empty.
“I’ve had to tell the kids that when the curtains open, they will see a lot of empty seats not because of a lack of interest, but because of social distancing,” said Deborah Case, artistic director of dance company. “And it will be hard for the dancers because they are used to seeing full houses… But they are really great kids and they will perform full out whether they are dancing for 50 people or 1,500 people.”
The holiday show features grand sets and elaborate costumes, which all match the talent of the young dancers.
Case, who is the founder of Deborah Case Dance Academy, said people of all ages can enjoy the classic show.
There will only be two shows this year at 3 p.m. on Dec. 5 and 6, down from the usual six performances. Tickets, which are $10 for children 12 years old and under, $34 for orchestra level seats and $30 for regular seats, can be purchased through https://www.rgvballet.com.
As a holiday show, The Nutcracker marks the end of the year for many in the community. Case said for her, the show symbolizes hope, and as a tumultuous year for people across the world grappling with the pandemic, the need for optimism has never been greater.
“It means hope for the dancers to be able to see that life can continue on — we can dance through a pandemic,” she said.
The pandemic has been particularly stressful for entertainment companies that depend on live audiences, but Case said the passion of young dancers in the region surpasses any obstacles that come their way.
“It would have been easy for us not to perform and just do everything virtually, but dance ballet does not work that way,” she said. “Dance doesn’t survive through virtual, it survives by teachers offering one-on-one, by giving corrections and helping the child improve and pushing them forward.”
Case has been teaching young dancers since she founded Deborah Case Dance Academy in McAllen in 1993. This year also marks her 28th year as an artistic director for the Rio Grande Valley Ballet company.
Though she said “this year has been the most challenging year of all,” her students have impressed her by their resilience.
“All the trainings have been done with social distancing and wearing masks, and all the athletes out there know that you need a lot of oxygen to be able to be physically active,” Case said. “And the dancers have not complained one time training at their highest level all while wearing masks with restricted air flow.
“I am very impressed with these dancers, with their stamina, with their ability to cope and continue on with their passion because they are very passionate about their dancing.”
Case said putting on the performance has helped her and her students stay positive throughout the pandemic, and through the show, she wants to share that good cheer with the community.
“They should come see it because that way they can see that there is hope, that we can be active and we can continue with our passions during a pandemic,” she said.
“I am encouraging everyone to come and support the Valley’s very talented, remarkable children. The kids have worked incredibly hard for this ballet. It is one of the more difficult things to do and it would be great to see a full house for the dancers.”