In what will be their last appearance at the downtown Music Hall venue before moving into the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts next fall, the Kansas City Ballet premiers the holiday season staple The Nutcracker this Saturday. Performances continue through Christmas eve.
It is billed as the largest Nutcracker in an eight state region, and is by far the largest, most complex production the company will present during its 53rd season. The host of huge sets, backdrops, costumes, and a cast that includes the entire company as well as more than 200 children dancers from the KCB’s dance school will be largely overseen by ballet master James Jordan.
A soft-spoken man originally from a small Virginia town, Jordan recently sat down to speak with me about his involvement in KCB, which has stretched for several decades; and about the evolution of its annual presentation of The Nutcracker.
“I was heading off to college as a theater major,” he began, “and looking at various programs and I realized there was going to be movement involved and I was going to be behind. So I actually found a sweet Mormon lady in the next town and she offered one class a week on a tile concrete floor in a church basement.”
Thanks in part to the training he received, Jordan was able to “walk through the door at Richmond [Virginia] Ballet and they gave me a scholarship.” After a year in Richmond, Jordan transferred to the North Carolina School for the Arts, where he was eventually recruited by Todd Bolender, who had recently been brought on board to help revitalize the Kansas City Ballet.
At the young age of 21, Jordon was ideal for Bolender’s purposes: “That was what Todd was looking for,” Jordan maintains. “Young people who wanted to continue training. He didn’t want a bunch of twenty-eight-year-olds who wanted to do it their own way. He wanted to shape a group into a certain look and that Balanchine technique.”
Now with his dancing days past, Jordan serves at KCB’s ballet master, a position whose duties he helped explain by holding up a massive sheaf of calendars, scheduling sheets and appointment logs.
“I do all the scheduling, which has long-term ramifications in having five weeks to prepare for a show.” Jordan will spend hours fitting scene rehearsals into various studios; juggling the calendars of visiting performers; scheduling fittings, photo calls, union-mandated break times, company moves and the like.
“That’s my daily puzzle,” he says with a bashful smile. “I don’t do crosswords—this is my little brain teaser every day.”
Jordan also helps run the rehearsals themselves, a skill that was on display during an Act 1 rehearsal I attended after our interview. In a scene of organized chaos, Jordon and ballet artistic director William Whitener worked with several dozen of the children who will populate The Nutcracker’s first act party and battle scenes (see slideshow).
While the major parts of the choreography were in place—the solos, group steps and key interactions—the proceedings were stopped several times by Whitener and Jordan to give notes and keep the dancers on their counts.
With this year’s production, Jordan tells of several innovations to what is officially billed as Todd Bolender’s Nutcracker. “We’re ramped up the energy of the battle scene by changing one character (the Nutcracker character is now danced by a male company dancer.) We have invented a horse character to lead [Clara’s] bed around…and the King and Queen of Snow are sort of darting through the snow when that never happened before.”
For tickets and more information on this year's Nutcracker, visit the Kansas City Ballet website, or call (816) 931-2232.