Nutcracker TreeIn show business the phrase “evergreen” is used to mean a production with great audience appeal that can be brought out year after year. Some become an “evergreen” by accident and some are produced to hopefully fulfill that achievement. One that comes quickly to mind as a happy accident is The Wizard of Oz. It is not only a yearly event but it is often shown several times a year in celebration of other holidays.

Of course the symbolism of the evergreen is the wonderful fir tree that never loses its leaves (needles) and is cherished by all. Remember the story of The Little Fir Tree by Hans Christian Anderson?

The greenest of evergreens in the show business world is probably The Nutcracker Ballet. This week there are thousands of Nutcrackers being presented in the United States alone. Every dance school, community and regional ballet company present their version of The Nutcracker. Nearly every professional company in the world presents their choreographed “original” of The Nutcracker Ballet. Why? Because not only is it a cherished story and a family holiday tradition, but it is an almost guaranteed box office bonanza. The San Francisco Chronicle this week stated that The San Francisco Ballet earns 43% to 45% of its ticket revenue in its two and a half week run! The Velveteen Rabbit, another Christmas “evergreen” earns ODC a grand $225,000 to $235,000, more than double what they earn in their entire repertory season. So you can see how important “evergreens” are to arts organizations’ budgets.

I wonder if my dear friend Jocelyn Vollmar had any idea when she stepped onto the stage as the first Snow Queen in the very first full length Nutcracker performance in the United States that she was not only making history, but would be contributing to the financial health of ballet companies far into the future? In those days the dancers only wanted to dance a story ballet. The original story ballets were almost all adapted from fairy tales and this one really fit the bill. It was also the time in dance company history when everyone did a little bit of everything just to get the show mounted. In fact, the first Nutcracker hit the stage in the middle of wartime rationing so the dancers stood in line to each get their limit of fabric so they could eventually costume the entire show!

How fitting that Jocelyn Vollmar was in that very first production that has gone on to be a symbol in the arts and a tradition for so many. To me, Jocelyn is an “evergreen.” She stands tall and strong for everything in the arts that I hold dear, and she never loses a needle! She is the epitome of the prima ballerina. She is both gracious and graceful. She is a consummate artist and her talent is far reaching. When her time came to stop performing she gave back to her art through teaching and coaching. So many new generations of ballerinas have benefited from her counsel and her training. She has enriched my life so many times over. She is my role model, my mentor, my colleague and my “evergreen” friend.

So, as the Nutcracker performances begin to close one by one for this 2007 season, I lift a toast to George Balanchine, Alexandra Danilova and Lew Christiansen who had the vision, each in their own way, to bring The Nutcracker to American audiences. And most special toast to my friend Jocelyn and our other dear friends in that original cast. To borrow from Charles Dickens’ “evergreen, the Ghost of Christmas Past inhabits the stages of the present through each one of you.