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Arts & Extras: Southwest Virginia Ballet's 'Nutcracker' goes virtual

Arts & Extras: Southwest Virginia Ballet's 'Nutcracker' goes virtual


A time-honored Roanoke holiday tradition will be coming to television screens in December instead of being confined to a Berglund Center stage.

Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Southwest Virginia Ballet would be preparing to mark the company’s 30th annivesary by rehearsing for its 29th production of “The Nutcracker” at the Berglund Performing Arts Theatre.

Instead, the show is already over — at least the parts where the ballet dancers do their thing. The resultant footage is in the process of being edited for a broadcast on Blue Ridge PBS (WBRA-TV, Channel 15).

“We’re happy to bring it to all of you,” said Blue Ridge PBS President and CEO Will Anderson at a Tuesday press conference held at the station. “It’s our gift to the community.”

“The arts means business here in Roanoke, and that’s the reason Southwest Virginia Ballet, with the help of Blue Ridge PBS, make this possible with our 30th anniversary celebration,” said SVB Artistic Director Pedro Szalay.

“Pedro has really been the inspiration behind all this, he’s our creative source,” said SVB Executive Director Carol Jessee.

His leadership led to “a true collaboration in the arts community,” she said, with scenes shot on video in Hotel Roanoke and the Taubman Museum of Art and by the Roanoke Star, as well as on the Berglund theater’s stage.

“We wanted to bring all the community together and make a showcase of our beautiful region,” Szalay said.

The SVB dancers, per regulations, danced their parts “all with their masks on,” Anderson said. “They performed it multiple times for us, multiple takes, multiple cameras, six cameras including a drone.”

The video will be made available in schools, hospitals and senior communities, Jessee said. Also, through the Roanoke PBS station’s streaming service, the video will be available “to many thousands of people who would not have been able to see ‘The Nutcracker’ even if we were live at the Berglund Center,” she said.

Ticket sales for “The Nutcracker” comprise the bulk of the Roanoke-based nonprofit ballet’s income. SVB is looking to offset that loss by offering sponsorships for the “Nutcracker” broadcast, Jessee said. “We have found that people are craving the arts and that they want to be a part of a success story and that is what we are producing.”

Anderson credited Berglund Center general manager Robyn Schon with approaching Blue Ridge PBS about the possibility of filming “The Nutcracker.”

“It’s such a tradition,” Schon said. “I know people who drive from all over the state to come to see ‘The Nutcracker’ every year. It’s like if they don’t see it, something bad’s going to happen. It’s a tradition.” In discussions with Szalay and Jessee about how to keep the tradition going, “the wheels started turning. Everybody else is doing something virtual, why can’t they do it?”

Regarding Schon’s proposal, “we said absolutely,” Anderson said, citing the station’s commitment to the regional arts. “It was a no-brainer.” Additional partners recruited included the Taubman, the city of Roanoke, Hotel Roanoke and Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

Roanoke animal shelter Angels of Assisi also contributed a performer to the video: a pit bull mix named Hank, a recipient of the nonprofit’s Biscuit Fund for abused and neglected animals, who has been recently adopted. Hank, present at the press conference, did not address the audience, but snuffled this reporter’s cellphone camera in friendly fashion.

RSO returns

Roanoke Symphony Orchestra has announced a series of live and virtual performances for the months of November and December. At the live performances, social distancing and mask wearing will be required.

The scheduled live performances are:

Christmas Concerto with RSO Virtuosi. Nov. 21, 7 p.m. Parkway Church on The Mountain, 3645 Orange Ave N.E., Roanoke. $45.

Holiday Brass. Dec. 4, 7 p.m. Parkway Church on The Mountain, 3645 Orange Ave N.E., Roanoke. $45.

Virtual broadcasts in the works include “Christmas Concerto with RSO Virtuosi,” “Holiday Brass” and “Holiday Pops from the Vault,” which will be an airing Dec. 19-20 of a past RSO performance at the Moss Arts Center in Blacksburg.

For more information, call 343-9127 or visit

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