Ballet Chelsea’s 20th Anniversary production of The Nutcracker: An Interview with Lucy Ann Lance at Ann Arbor’s 1290 WLBY

Monica Monsma, Executive Director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce, and Jane Thompson, President of Ballet Chelsea at the Lucy Ann Lance radio show in Ann Arbor, MI

Thank you to Monica Monsma, Executive Director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce, for inviting Ballet Chelsea President Jane Thompson to join her for the Chamber’s weekly talk with Lucy Ann Lance at Ann Arbor’s talk station 1290 WLBY. We talked about our upcoming performance of The Nutcracker with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, as well as Ballet Chelsea teachers, classes, and our Adaptive Dance Program.

Listen to the interview here: lance-erskine.com/audio/111317/chelsea

Interview Transcript

Lucy Ann Lance: You will see many performances around our community of this iconic ballet, but you will never see one that is like the production Ballet Chelsea puts on. It is absolutely glorious. The Nutcracker, it’s the season. I love The Nutcracker, such a beautiful, beautiful production.

On our Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce report today, Monica Monsma back with us, Executive Director of the Chamber.

Monica Monsma: Good morning.

Lucy Ann Lance: Do you like The Nutcracker?

Monica Monsma: I love it. In fact, I see it every year.

Lucy Ann Lance: I know it is one of those productions you try to get out to, because it kind of defines the holiday season and Christmas.

Jane Thompson with us, President of Ballet Chelsea. How many years now has Ballet Chelsea been doing The Nutcracker?

Jane Thompson: Well, this year is a key year because it’s 20 years this year, the 20th anniversary this year.

Lucy Ann Lance: Congratulations.

Jane Thompson: Yes, and so we’re celebrating in lots and lots of different ways, the big one being with full, live music performed by Jackson Symphony Orchestra.

Lucy Ann Lance: This is a great partnership with the community of Jackson.

Jane Thompson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lucy Ann Lance: And we’ve seen more of it happening as we talk about regionalization, Monica, and Chelsea being so close to the Jackson community.

Monica Monsma: Yeah, we’re really positioned perfectly to grow both east and west, and north and south, and to develop great partnerships all around.

Lucy Ann Lance: I like to see that because we often see Ann Arbor as being the center of Washtenaw County, but when you see some of the outlying areas and the kinds of economic development they’re doing, and partnerships, it really makes sense. And it can be illustrated as simply as non-profits working together, right Jane?

Jane Thompson: Yes. We worked with Jackson Symphony Orchestra earlier this year. They did a evening of Spanish music and we had some of our dancers performing with them then. And then so this collaboration for The Nutcracker developed from there. We have more and more dancers coming to dance in Chelsea from the Jackson area. We’re having dancers coming from all over from Washtenaw County and Livingston County, and Jackson County now. But the Jackson Symphony Orchestra actually bringing a smaller orchestra into Chelsea, to perform live at two shows in Chelsea as well.

Lucy Ann Lance: When is this production?

Jane Thompson: The Jackson show at the Potter Center in Jackson is the 8th of December and the Chelsea shows are the 9th and 10th of December.

Lucy Ann Lance: Oh that’s gonna be great, and where are you hosting them in Chelsea?

Jane Thompson: Chelsea High School. They put a fantastic state of the art auditorium there, it’s very good.

Lucy Ann Lance: What draws dancers from all over the southeast Michigan area to want to come and train with Ballet Chelsea?

Jane Thompson: I think it’s that at Ballet Chelsea, although we offer classes in lots and lots of different dance styles, we have a very, very strong ballet team and our artistic director has a very high level reputation in the area. Then she has about five other ballet teachers, all with very strong ballet backgrounds. … We’ve also got very good jazz teachers and a one that does modern dance and such, but it’s the reputation of the teachers that’s attracting these kids from all over the place. We have them from Canton, Milan, as I said Jackson, Brighton. They come from quite some distance.

Lucy Ann Lance: What is the story of The Nutcracker?

Jane Thompson: Oh, it’s a magical story. It’s a little girl who goes to sleep and wakes up to find all sorts of exciting toys and characters dancing in front of her. So, there’s everything from toy soldiers and mice, and a rat king, and a handsome cavalier who dances with a sugar plum fairy. It’s all about this magical dream that this little girl has at Christmas time.

Lucy Ann Lance: Is it really a dream though?

Jane Thompson: [Laughs] Well, you have to wait until the very end to determine that.

Lucy Ann Lance: It’s such a beautiful production. 20 years in the making at Ballet Chelsea. Does it change from year to year? Do you put something new in?

Jane Thompson: It changes every single year and we have one particular lady who comes, she’s been coming every year, and she always comes to see myself and the artistic director at the end to say, “I’ve noticed the changes”.

Lucy Ann Lance: Really?

Jane Thompson: She comes to know the changes. So the changes may depend upon the dancers that we have. If we have a particular level of dancer or particular age of dancer, the artistic director may develop a role specially for that dancer. This year, with it being our 20th year, we’re having complete new sets and drops. We’ve had them all specially made by Stephen [Sauers], who used to work as the technical director for the opera house in Adrian.

Lucy Ann Lance: Ohhh.

Jane Thompson: Our costume mistress, Mary Waldron, is busy with a huge team of costume makers making, I would think, a good third of our costumes brand new this year.

Lucy Ann Lance: Oh how beautiful. This is gonna be a delightful production. And tickets run how much?

Jane Thompson: Tickets start at between $10 and $25, depending upon where you’re sitting. They’re the same price whether you’re at the Potter Center or at Chelsea, and you can get them at balletchelsea.org.

Lucy Ann Lance: Balletchelsea.org. You can also see some beautiful photographs on there of these productions. What makes a good ballerina?

Jane Thompson: What makes a good ballerina? It’s the right approach that a young dancer has. Somebody who’s really focused. Somebody who wants to do their best to extend what they can actually do. We have good ballerinas of all different shapes and sizes, ages, but it’s their commitment to it, it’s their enjoyment of it, it’s their musicality. It’s great to see how these young dancers develop over the years.

Dean Erskine: So basically, someone who really needs to be on their toes.

Lucy Ann Lance: [Laughs] He couldn’t wait to say that.

Dean Erskine: I’m sorry but somebody had to say it.

Jane Thompson: [Laughs] Somebody had to say it, yeah.

Lucy Ann Lance: What I love about dance and ballet, and I took tap when I was younger but that was it, and I always say I have no rhythm. But I’ve noticed that with young people who start out in dance, even if they don’t continue later in life, it gives them balance, it gives them kind of a good grounding in life just to be able to move and to execute everything you need to do in life.

Jane Thompson: I think if you’ve done a lot of dance in your life, I mean more than a couple of years but a number of years, and you then see that person later in life, you can almost tell they’ve been a dancer.

Lucy Ann Lance: Yes exactly.

Jane Thompson: The way they stand, and the way they walk.

Lucy Ann Lance: Yes.

Jane Thompson: The way they hold themselves, yes.

Lucy Ann Lance: Yeah. I think it gives you great support.

Jane Thompson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lucy Ann Lance: How old should you be when you start? What’s the youngest?

Jane Thompson: Well, we have classes for as young as three year olds.

Lucy Ann Lance: Oh wow.

Jane Thompson: And we have classes through all ages up to adults. So our adult program is growing quite substantially. And then the other program that I’m particularly proud of is our program, our Adaptive Dance Program, for people with special needs.

Lucy Ann Lance: Oh I didn’t know you did that.

Jane Thompson: We have been running this for now, three years. It’s funded primarily by money from foundations. So all the classes are free to the participants. We have two specially trained teachers, who in the main, go to where these participants are. So, they run everything from pre-school special education classes to senior citizen classes at residential centers and at senior centers. Then we do have some open classes at Ballet Chelsea on a Thursday and a Friday, where young people come. One class is for young adults from 18 to 25 year olds. Then other classes are from 8 to 14 year olds.

It’s fantastic to see how much they get out of movement. It’s all sorts of movements have been developed to be within their ability and to extend their ability too.

Lucy Ann Lance: I just clicked on to the adaptive section of your balletchelsea.org and again, great pictures on here. Wonderful to see. So, persons who utilize wheelchairs, looks like you might have some individuals who have autism and other kinds of needs, that you’re able to work with. How great for them to be able to get out and maybe get out of their comfort zone a little and …

Jane Thompson: Yes, and if anybody’s interested in finding what we do because the classes are all over the place. They’re in Ann Arbor, they’re in Manchester, they’re in Chelsea at the moment. We have something like 15 different classes that we hold each week and if people are interested, they can again contact us at info@balletchelsea.org or at our phone number (734-475-3070) and we’ll match them up with the most appropriate class for them.

Lucy Ann Lance: How wonderful. I see 5 Healthy Towns Foundation is part of that as well.

Jane Thompson: 5 Healthy Towns gave us all the development money and they’ve been a huge supporter every year, ever since.

Lucy Ann Lance: Also, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Chelsea Community Foundation, the Wilkinson Foundation, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, so kudos to all of those to be able to be so inclusive like that.

Jane Thompson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lucy Ann Lance: That’s marvelous and free to those individuals.

Jane Thompson: It’s is, yeah.

Lucy Ann Lance: Persons with special needs through Ballet Chelsea., visit balletchelsea.org for more information. Well, The Nutcracker again, give everyone the dates and times.

Jane Thompson: Yes, the dates are December the 8th at the Potter Center at 7:00. December the 9th at Chelsea Auditorium at 7:00 and December the 10th at Chelsea at 2:00, and I must say the 2:00 show on Sunday, there are not many tickets left. If you want tickets you better get online very soon because there’s very few tickets.

Lucy Ann Lance: Alright. How did this story develop originally? It was in written form right? At first?

Jane Thompson: It was a fairy story, if you like, written a very long time ago and bits of it have changed over the years as different organizations have performed it and produced it. Sometimes the little girl’s called Marie, sometimes she’s called Clara. Yes, but it was an old fairy story that was developed over 100 years ago.

Lucy Ann Lance: Then, the music of Tchaikovsky.

Jane Thompson: Yes, it is Tchaikovsky’s music.

Lucy Ann Lance: Beautiful. Looking forward to seeing your production this year as always. Thank you so much.

Jane Thompson: Thank you for allowing me to come and tell you all about it.

Lucy Ann Lance: It’s always nice to see Jane Thompson. She is the President of Ballet Chelsea. Monica Monsma, Executive Director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce, another great event in your community. What else is happening that you wanna pass along?

Monica Monsma: Well, we’re getting ready for our Hometown Holidays, which will be December 1st and 2nd. We have a great lights parade featuring the big man himself at the end, Santa. Along with many other activities that evening, including hot cocoa, s’mores and bonfires, music. So, we’re really excited and deep in the planning of that weekend.

Lucy Ann Lance: When is that again?

Monica Monsma: December 1st and 2nd.

Lucy Ann Lance: Alright, mark your calendars in downtown Chelsea. Thank you so much Monica and thank you to you Jane —

Monica Monsma: Thank you.

Lucy Ann Lance: –And Ballet Chelsea, and their production of The Nutcracker. You’re listening to Ann Arbor’s talk station 1290 WLBY.

For More Information

Ballet Chelsea presents The Nutcracker on Dec. 8-10

Chelsea’s Hometown Holiday weekend, Dec 1-3

Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce

Jackson Symphony Orchestra

Ballet Chelsea’s Adaptive Dance Program