More than a century after its 1892 debut, “The Nutcracker” has become a treasured family tradition.
Not just for the families in the audience, but for the families onstage.
As audiences marvel at Nevada Ballet Theatre’s extravagant production, which returns to The Smith Center on Saturday for a 10-performance run, the “three-ring Gallagher circus” — as Jamey Gallagher describes it — will be helping to create the magic.
In “The Nutcracker’s” first act — set during a festive Christmas Eve gathering where the title object magically comes to life — Gallagher and his wife, Tara Foy, will be dancing — Gallagher as the grandfather and Foy as the mother of young Clara (danced by Betsy Lucas), whose fanciful experiences the ballet depicts.
Starting Wednesday, the Gallaghers’ 10-year-old son, Sean, will be dancing, too, as one of the young party guests. (He’s one of more than 150 children featured during the ballet’s 10 performances.)
Someday, Sean says, he’d like to portray Fritz, Clara’s impish brother.
But at least he’s moving up in the “Nutcracker” world — his first “Nutcracker” role, at age 3, was as a dancing mouse.
The Gallaghers aren’t the only NBT “Nutcracker” family this year, however.
Jerry Nadal — senior vice president of Cirque du Soleil’s resident show division — is an NBT trustee; his partner, Gene Lubas (former artistic director for “Zarkana,” who teaches at NBT’s Academy) will play the role of Mother Ginger at some performances. And their twin sons, Harrison and Wilson Lubas-Nadal, appear in the party scene.
The Gallaghers’ connection with NBT’s “Nutcracker” stretches back to the beginning of the troupe’s four-decade history.
Jamey, who choreographs and produces corporate shows, has been dancing with the company since the early ’80s, when it was known as Nevada Dance Theatre. And Tara — who teaches Las Vegas Academy students as well as NBT dancers — joined in 1987, when she arrived in Las Vegas from her native London.
Both also danced on the Strip — Tara in Siegfried and Roy’s long-running Mirage show and the Stardust’s “Enter the Night,” Jamey in Bally’s “Jubilee!” and the Tropicana’s “Folies Bergere,” the latter alongside Lauri Thompson, who’s an NBT trustee. (You can also catch Jamey, Tara and Thompson in the 1987 made-in-Vegas movie “Dance or Die.”)
“You were in a movie?” Sean asks his parents, clearly impressed.
For the fifth-grader, however, being onstage is “family fun stuff” — in part because his parents have “told me pretty much every story about ‘The Nutcracker.’ ”
Including all the roles they’ve played — “almost like every part,” Sean says.
Except that Tara’s never played Clara. “Next year,” she jokes.
Among Jamey’s roles: the Nutcracker Prince (danced this year by Braeden Barnes), who escorts Clara through a second-act winter wonderland populated by, among others, waltzing flowers and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“You did that?” Sean asks his dad. (Clearly, he hasn’t heard every “Nutcracker” story.)
As for Sean’s own interest in dance, “with two dancing parents, it’s just sort of inevitable,” he says.
Besides, Sean likes “learning the new steps,” along with “trying to figure out how to learn the combinations (of steps) and getting the turns perfect.”
This year’s “Nutcracker” features plenty of new steps for NBT dancers, according to artistic director James Canfield.
Canfield estimates he’s choreographed “about 85 percent of it all over again” following last year’s initial production, overseeing changes to everything from the ballet’s narrative flow to its atmospheric lighting.
“When it’s on paper, it’s one thing,” Canfield says. “When it’s realized in front of you,” he adds, it’s easier to find “new ways to unfold the story.”
Performing Canfield’s new “Nutcracker” at The Smith Center last year was exciting, Sean says, because “the stage was much bigger” than the one in Paris Las Vegas’ Theatre Des Arts, “The Nutcracker’s” previous stage home. “We had to learn where all the wings were, and where the entrances were.”
Sean also remembers, before the performance, “just getting ready” and standing onstage with his parents, who “were wishing me good luck” while other kids’ parents were in the audience.
Tara describes the family’s onstage moments as “a dream come true — where else would you be able to perform together?” she asks. “It’s pretty incredible — you dream about that. It’s so special, especially at Christmastime.”
Jamey and Tara are on every night throughout “The Nutcracker’s” run; Sean’s scheduled to go on Wednesday and return through the ballet’s second weekend.
That includes some matinee-evening doubleheaders — which is just fine with Sean.
“It’s fun to do two shows a day,” he says. “At afternoon, when it’s turning to night, I think, ‘I’m back!’ ”
In addition, Tara and Jamey spent years doing two shows a night on the Strip, so “sometimes one is a little anti-climactic,” Jamey observes.
Being in “The Nutcracker” year after year after year inspires a variety of “kooky pranks,” he acknowledges — including “making up lyrics” to the ballet’s classic Tchaikovsky score to add a bit of variety “when you’ve done it a couple hundred times.”
Yet, “amazingly enough,” Jamey adds, each of NBT’s “Nutcrackers” has “been different enough over all the years” so “I kind of look at it as fresh and new” every time.
Recalling Nevada Dance Theatre’s “humble beginnings” (“we thought it was the greatest thing ever at the time,” he says) makes NBT’s current “Nutcracker” a vastly different experience.
“It is very much a privilege to be a part of such an extravagant vision,” Jamey says.
An extravagant vision that keeps evolving, Canfield adds.
In part, that’s because “we’re trying to attract newer audiences — and keep veteran audiences,” the choreographer says, promising that this year’s “Nutcracker” is “just going to be a little more magical.”
For Sean Gallagher, that magic revolves around just being onstage.
“I like how it’s fun,” he says. “It’s fun being onstage because you can express yourself in so many different ways.”
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.