American Repertory Ballet Returns to its Roots with “Nutcracker”

A new production of the holiday classic pays homage to American Repertory Ballet’s history and company founder Audrée Estey.

By Susan Wallner

How many children have begged their parents for ballet classes after seeing Clara dance with the Sugarplums in the “Nutcracker”? Well, in New Jersey, some of those children may now be bringing their grandchildren. This year marks American Repertory Ballet’s 49th year in performing the holiday classic, which draws dancers from their school (Princeton Ballet School), adults from the community, and the company’s professional dancer corps. One hundred dancers are onstage this season in a new production that pays homage to American Repertory Ballet’s history by reviving the first act choreography of company founder Audrée Estey.

In 2010, American Repertory Ballet (ARB) went through a restructuring that included the departure of artistic director Graham Lustig. “Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker” had been presented by ARB for the previous ten years. Lustig’s version, set in the first years of 20th century America, is a proprietary creation that Lustig took with him – leaving a pressing need for a new production of this essential ballet. But with challenge comes opportunity, and ARB’s return to traditional Victorian dress and a fantastical land of sweets has already proven to be an audience favorite. The second act and snow scene were newly choreographed last year by ARB Company Director Douglas Martin. Next year, a fully re-imagined set for the snow scene will complete the transformation in time for the company’s 50th anniversary.

American Repertory Ballet's "Nutcracker" has been a holiday tradition since 1963. Photo courtesy of Leighton Chen.

Managing Director Christine Chen describes the new “Nutcracker” as “an opportunity to revisit our history.” Chen is herself an alumna of the Princeton Ballet School and ARB’s pre-professional division, as well as an experienced performer, choreographer, and arts manager. According to Chen, engaging with the community is a priority for the company. For instance, ARB offers a free “On Pointe” enrichment series in which guest lecturers give informal talks on aspects of dance. December’s topic was “Inside the Nutcracker”; upcoming topics include “The Music of Romeo and Juliet” with Simon Morrison, Prokofiev expert, music scholar, and Princeton University professor.

Two of ARB’s newest professional company members are featured in a recent visit to a technique class by State of the Arts. Karen Leslie Moscato, who started at the Princeton Ballet School at age 4 and became a full company dancer last season, can be seen in “ARB’s Nutcracker” in the lead role of the Sugar Plum Fairy as well as the Snow Queen and the Dew Drop Fairy. David DuBois, who joined the company this season, dances the Snow King as well as Arabian Man and Spanish Man.


Watch a State of the Arts segment featuring an American Repertory Ballet technique class. ARB Director Douglas Martin and dancers David DuBois and Karen Leslie Moscato describe the discipline and sacrifice required in pursuing their art form.

Where to see “ARB’s Nutcracker”:

    Saturday, December 10th at 1 pm and 4:30 pm in Trenton at Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton. For tickets, call 609-984-8400 or go to
    Saturday, December 17th and Sunday, December 18th at 1 pm and 4:30 pm in New Brunswick at the State Theatre, 15 Livingston Ave. All performances feature a live orchestra under direction of Michael Pratt and vocals by the Princeton Girlchoir. For tickets, call 732-246-SHOW or visit

ARB’s “On Pointe” Enrichment Series program, “The Music of Romeo and Juliet”:

    Friday, January 6th at 5:15 pm at the Princeton Ballet School, located at 301 N. Harrison Street in Princeton (right above McCaffrey’s Supermarket). For more information, visit

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, now airing on NJTV Sundays at 10 am and 8 pm.