Sugar plum fairies and nutcrackers may be a traditional part of December, but Project Ballet is preparing to give audiences a Land-of-Sweets treat in May, with six performances May 13-16.

“We really feel we made the right call,” Beth McLeish said.

The founder and artistic director for the non-profit Fort Wayne ballet school explained that, “Even leading up to the show in December we had made a lot of changes.”

Alterations included dropping the size of the cast by 40%, rehearsing via Zoom, and having dancers wear masks. For dancers in close proximity to one another, the ballet program asked that they sign permission forms establishing that if a dancer was diagnosed with COVID, their dance partner would quarantine, too.

Practice for “The Nutcracker” started in September, but when COVID numbers went up, the audience size kept going down. “We were looking at (a maximum audience of) 250, then 100, then 25,” McLeish said. It reached a point where the number of dancers exceeded the allowed number of people for any group gathering.

So, “The Nutcracker” was postponed. “The kids were just so desperate to get on stage with a live audience … to be on stage with an empty auditorium would (have been) devastating,” McLeish said.

And it seems to be a better time for everyone involved. In November, recalled McLeish, they would have up to a dozen students out on quarantine each week. However, following spring break, she said, “We’ve had very, very few kids in quarantine.”

Students still rehearse with masks if they are close to one another, but the ballet has been choreographed so that there is extra space between most dancers, allowing them to dance without masks. The principal dancers will be masked until the very last minute before they go onstage.

Backstage protocols have been changed, and more music has been added, so that dancers will not be too crowded when waiting for their cues, entering or exiting the stage. McLeish explained that their usual ballet is a “slightly condensed” version of “Nutcracker.” For these May performances, they will include more of the traditional music to give dancers time to move in a socially-distant way.

Using the Embassy Theatre is “such a gift,” McLeish said, because of all the space they can use. And the Embassy also has equipment, so that the ballet can be broadcast synchronously online — which they will do for two of their performances.”

Project Ballet will present “Nutcracker in May” at the Embassy Theatre, 125 W. Jefferson Blvd., Fort Wayne. Performances are: Thursday, May 13, 7 p.m.; Friday, May 14, 7 p.m.; Saturday, May 15, 2 & 7 p.m.; and Sunday, May 16, 1 & 6 p.m. Virtual streaming is available Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $29, $35 or $42, plus fees. Get more information and follow links to tickets at projectballet.org.

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