Magic happens every December at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House as toys come to life and glittering snow falls on stage during Colorado Ballet’s performances of the “The Nutcracker.”
But for company dancer and Baker resident Fernanda Oliveira, the ballet goes beyond the stage: It’s an opportunity to connect with the audience and tell a story that many know and love.
“I think my favorite thing about ballet now, at this point in time, is the storytelling side of it,” she said. “You can take the audience into your world. You just give them a little bit of magic.”
In the ballet, a young girl named Clara is given a toy nutcracker doll for Christmas. During the night the doll comes to life, fighting an army of rats. Clara helps the nutcracker defeat the rat king and is transported into a world of sweets and magic.
Even those unfamiliar with the ballet often know Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famed score, which has been featured in holiday commercials and movies for decades. “The Nutcracker,” composed in 1892, was Tchaikovsky’s last ballet.
This will be the 58th annual run of “The Nutcracker” by Colorado Ballet, which this year offers 27 performances. The dance company was founded in 1961 as the Colorado Concert Ballet.
But for Oliveira, 25, who grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the popular Christmas tale is still new. While learning ballet in Rio, Oliveira said “The Nutcracker” was not as widely performed there as it is in the U.S. When she first moved to Washington, D.C., in 2010 to complete her training, she also began her first set of “Nutcracker” performances.
In her seventh year performing the show, Oliveira said she is excited to try new roles. Each dancer learns multiple roles for the run of “Nutcracker.” Snowflakes, toys and flowers are just some of the parts. A few of Oliveira’s favorites roles are the doll from the first act, as well as the Arabian dance in act two. This year, she is most excited to dance the role of Dew Drop during “Waltz of the Flowers” in act two. It will be her first time performing the role.
Oliveira enjoys the ballet because of the variety of roles but also, she said, because the music is special. While performing with the Washington Ballet, Oliveira said the company did not have a live orchestra. One year, the company was able to bring in musicians especially for “The Nutcracker.” Hearing the score performed live for the first time was something she won’t forget.
“I remember going in for the last part of `The Waltz of the Flowers,’ and the music just builds up, and it swells up and it was just nothing like I’d ever experienced before,” Oliveira said. “It was just really magical. It really moves you.”
Performances by the Colorado Ballet in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House feature a live orchestra. Oliveira first joined Colorado Ballet in 2014 and returned in 2016 after taking a year off due to a knee injury.
At a young age, Oliveira said she enjoyed the structure and discipline that learning ballet brought to her life. By the age of 13, she knew she wanted to dance professionally.
“As I started developing (my skills) more, and getting better at it, I fell in love with the artistry side of it, too,” she said. “I think that I liked the structure first and then I realized that I could have fun with it and make it mine.”
The classical movements from traditional ballets such as “The Nutcracker,” and her favorite, “Giselle,” inspire Oliveira when she creates her own choreographic works.
Colorado Ballet puts on an annual program called Attitude on Santa Fe, which is performed at its studio space on 1075 Santa Fe Dr. Dancers perform original works, often choreographed by members of the company. After her knee injury, Oliveira said she needed to do something involving dance and took the opportunity to choreograph a piece for the performance.
Recently, the Avant Chamber Ballet in Dallas commissioned Oliveira to choreograph a full-length piece for their dancers that will premiere there early next year. She said she hopes to continue creating original pieces.
While she said she is inspired by classical dance, her own choreography also features a freedom of movement that you don’t often see in those works.
“I realized that I’ve always choreographed, in my head,” she said. “I can’t just sit and listen to music and not put movement to it.”