Journey through space

Area-51 Dance Theatre presents its post-holiday production, The SpaceCracker

Since last year, the score has been revamped. The choreography has been rearranged, embellished and transformed. Even the plot has gone through some revisions. But in Area-51 Dance Theatre’s second annual production of the original work The SpaceCracker, one thing definitely remains the same: It’s not The Nutcracker.

Still, as Area-51 Artistic Director Elizabeth Weigel describes how her sci-fi, modern dance production differs from the classic holiday ballet, there’s a hint of hesitation in her voice, as if she’s afraid Tchaikovsky’s ghost will hunt her down.

“I’ve always loved The Nutcracker,” she insists. “Last year, when I danced in it, I bawled my eyes out, because I knew it was probably the last time I’d dance pointe. I think it’s a wonderful, magical tradition. Competing with it is something I’d never want to do.”

Twinges of insecurity on Weigel’s part would be understandable. Her simple inspiration to revamp The Nutcracker into a more modern ballet has evolved into a mammoth endeavor involving 56 dancers, two composers, a playwright and a world-renowned costume designer. The hyper-modern production is full of strange interstellar creatures, laser guns, glittering pulsars, holograms and modern fireworks.

Like Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the plot follows the adventures of the young, plucky Kalea as she embarks on a journey of personal growth, battling the forces of chaos until she finally learns to accept them.

The young heroine’s quest bears remarkable similarities to Weigel’s own experiences as a novice producer—especially the chaos part, she jokes. She made some mistakes, she admits. She has also met with the success—excited, satisfied audiences who want to come back again. In the end, her visions for The SpaceCracker are anything but humble.

“I had always wondered: Why doesn’t modern dance have its own ballet like The Nutcracker?” Weigel says. “It’s become a wonderful tradition, something full of magical moments that people come back to see year after year. Modern dance has never had that.”

Weigel has never shied away from dreaming big. After graduating from the University of Utah, she danced professionally for 10 years in Seattle, performing with an array of ballet companies and modern dance troupes. Three years ago, she moved to Reno to open a business. Her need to dance, however, wouldn’t go away. She began teaching classes at Truckee Meadows Community College and local dance studios. She saw potential in a town most wouldn’t classify as a mecca for dance, and she decided to start her own troupe.

“I wanted to bring modern dance to Reno,” she said. “There was no group like Area-51, a serious adult company.”

Today, Area-51 has about 15 members with experienced and beginning dancers. Eventually, Weigel hopes to transform the troupe into a “fully contracted professional company that tours the country.” That goal would require more funding, more dancers and the ability to rehearse full-time, and Weigel says the company is slowly moving toward that level. The company is a frequent performer in Reno’s arts scene, including appearances in the city’s summer arts festival, Artown.

Weigel hopes The SpaceCracker will bring the company nearer to its goals—when she finally gets it right.

"I’ve changed all of the choreography," she says. "And the score has been reworked. I’ve kept the things that worked, added new things, changed things around—I’m a perfectionist, and I just wanted to keep it fresh and memorable."