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Dancing Tortoises, Rugged Wetlands, and Tchaikovsky: Ballet Vero Beach Creates Free-Streaming ‘Nutcracker on the Indian River’ Film

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Tania Ortega-Cowan
Ballet Vero Beach films a scene on location from 'Nutcracker on the Indian River'

Ballet Vero Beach turned the challenge of the pandemic into an innovative opportunity by taking their 'Nutcracker on the Indian River' to the water's edge to film an original adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker which we can see for free from December 22 through January 6.

One holiday tradition the pandemic has almost entirely eliminated is the Nutcracker ballet. But the nonprofit professional dance company Ballet Vero Beach got innovative and took their version out into the rugged Florida wetlands to film it.

And from December 22 through January 6, we can all see it for free on streaming and broadcast services, including PBS South Florida.

AS: This is our gift to you. No obligation. You don’t have to get us anything in return!

Adam Schnell is the Artistic Director and CEO of Ballet Vero Beach.

AS: We need art, we need culture to inspire us to keep going. So, this would have been our 4th of the theatrical production of Nutcracker on the Indian River.

It centers around our local environment, so instead of candy characters…

AS: You see our land crabs; you see our sandhill cranes, our bobcat and the river otter, the gopher tortoises. We have the sandpipers, and the river waves that come to life. We have Mother Mangrove and her manatee children.

In the past, there were 25 professional dancers, 40 to 60 local youth and a large stage crew. Of course, then the pandemic put a stop to that.

AS: So, I said OK the live theatrical production is out. There’s no way we’re going to be able to do that.

But… what if they scaled down and filmed it on location…

AS: I have always thought it would be great to see those costumes down by the river one day dancing and so this seemed like a perfect time to see if we could actually do this.

First, he called the Indian River Land Trust, who immediately offered filming locations along the Lagoon.

AS: So, a few days later…

Schnell went to the property to see how they could construct a dance floor…

AS: …because I knew we had to be able to wear pointe shoes and be able to do all the spectacular things that our dancers do. and there’s the river and there’s a dolphin surfacing and I just went oh my gosh, OK, so this is happening!

It’s 1919. Our heroine takes the train from Manhattan to Vero Beach where she discovers the magic of the Lagoon through the dance. The Indian River County Historical Society offered the 1909 Hallstrom House to film the short scene in her Manhattan home.

Donors covered the rest of the costs, and Schnell knew it would go on free streaming services but was concerned about lack of internet access for some of the kids they serve.

AS: We really believe that we are not just here to entertain we really are here to improve the community on a basic level.

Local TV 30 donated broadcasts. PBS South Florida was interested, but needed it right away, which at the time gave him only weeks to pull it off.

They filmed the first few days of October, which, you may recall, is when the Treasure Coast saw record rainfall.

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Tania Ortega-Cowan
Adam Schnell, Artistic Director and CEO of Ballet Vero Beach, with the 'Nutcracker on the Indian River' film crew

AS: There was a huge incident the day before we were supposed to film with our outdoor flooring being flooded out. But somehow the sun came out and we finished filming in about 2-1/2 days.

We joined them on the closed set as they filmed the Gopher Tortoises.

AS: OK, guys, take your frame in so that we can… OK that’s good. Here we go – are you rolling, and I am out of shot, Lance? Good – good – ah here we go…

You can really hear their toe-pointes hitting the floor.

AS: Good, you guys.

CR: No, no, he did it wrong – she did it right …

AS: Cool, take your breath. Let me know when you’re ready and we’ll go again. Great guys – excellent – shoes off real quick! Get those costumes out of the rain – thank you!

Click here to find all viewing options: https://balletverobeach.org/nutcracker-on-the-indian-river.php

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Tania Ortega-Cowan
The on-location dressing room for 'Nutcracker on the Indian River'