A trip, with or without a gaggle of kids, to see UNC School of the ArtsThe Nutcracker is a beloved aspect of the holiday season in Winston-Salem. The first UNCSA Nutcracker was presented at Reynolds Auditorium in 1966. It moved to the Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem in 1983, and has been performed there almost every year since then. This year represents a huge departure, with the ballet being presented at the mighty Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro while the Stevens Center undergoes extensive renovations for the next two to five years.

Hear the good news: The traditional ballet with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky seemed right at home in its new temporary home in Greensboro. It runs through Sunday, Dec. 10.

Tickets for the show were at about 85 percent sold by Thursday night, according to officials at the school, and the Greensboro Youth Concert Choir that sang with the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra undoubtedly brought in some friends and family from that end of I-40.

During the pandemic in 2020, Artistic Director Ilya Kozadayev wrote, re-choreographed, and co-directed the ballet, making it into a 30-minute film that aired on UNC-TV and can still be seen on UNCSA.edu, PBS.org, and YouTube.

Because of that film, UNCSA’s School of Dance and School of Design and Production did not have to miss out on the camaraderie and great sense of community that comes with being a part of the creation of The Nutcracker. In 2021, the school presented a truncated version of the live ballet that still adhered to COVID safety standards.

Each year since 2020, Kozadayev has restored scenes and gradually created every step of the choreography except for the Grand Pas de deux in Act II. The full ballet that is currently on stage first debuted last year.

Kozadayev’s expansive opening party scene is alive with flying capes and billowing skirts. He has expanded the character of Drosselmeyer – a mysterious and ambiguous figure – to make them more physical and engaged. Drosselmeyer is a pivotal character who brings Clara the magical nutcracker that prepares the way for journeys through the lands of Sweets and Ice and Snow.

The roles of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince have also been expanded, giving them far more active roles as they interact with the Snowflakes and the Flowers instead of watching passively from upstage center.

Different dancers will dance most of the roles on different nights. I’ll be referring specifically to the performers on Thursday, Dec. 7, below.

As the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, Tess Cogley and Elliott Mumm are simply dazzling. They make their big, spectacular lifts in the Grand Pas look effortless. Cogley’s Sugar Plum blends fluidity and precision.

Vanessa Meikle and Karl Pil were quite good in the roles of Snow Queen and King dancing variations – duets and solos – that lead Clara and the Prince deeper into the realm of magic. Pil distinguished himself again as part of the Trepak, the Russian dance, with impossibly high, leaping splits.

Mother Ginger (Noah Braun), always a crowd favorite, was back with her bevy of Ginger Boys and Girls. Paisley Kupka’s Drosselmeyer was a marvel of flexibility and kinetic energy. Sam Stutz and Nifa Omondi as Grandpa and Grandma were the life of the party.

It’s not every day that you see a University of North Carolina Chancellor conduct a symphony orchestra, but that’s exactly what we get at this ballet. From the first lively notes of the Overture, the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra swept us along Clara’s musically exhilarating journey. And it’s all there: Chocolate: Spanish Dance, Coffee: Arabian Dance, Tea: Chinese Dance, Marzipan, and more.

The School of Dance has its own costume department, because dance costumes, especially classical ballet, have special construction need. Tutu skirts are painstakingly built to stand out nearly parallel to the floor. Illusion fabric is used to make it appear that bodices magically hold themselves up, and the bodices themselves are often encrusted with beads and crystals.

The School of Design and Production is also directly involved in UNCSA’s The Nutcracker, and the beauty of the sets and costumes rival anything you will see at a professional ballet.

This year’s production is a triumph of resiliency and innovation. Having come through COVID, adapting to a new theater space, riding a bus daily from Winston-Salem to Greensboro and back, all of the artists, craftspeople, leaders, and technicians deserve a loud “Huzzah!,” and a welcome to this next generation of The Nutcracker.

This production repeats through December 10. See our sidebar for details.