Kentucky Ballet Theatre hopes it's starting a new Central Kentucky holiday tradition when it presents the world premiere of The Night Before Christmas this weekend.
Conceived by Kentucky Ballet artistic director Norbe Risco and board president Jan Foody, The Night Before Christmas is inspired by the well-known 19th-century poem by Clement Clarke Moore about a Christmas Eve visit from Santa Claus.
Risco also choreographed the entire ballet and co-wrote the narrative aspects of the show with Lexington actor and director Ross Carter.
Risco and Carter used the classic poem as inspiration for the ballet's story but didn't limit themselves to a strict line-by-line re-creation of the work. Instead, they wrote a whimsical adventure that takes liberal creative license with the poem's characters, creating an imaginative holiday tale that they hope will become a popular tradition.
The story is told in two acts, beginning in Santa's workshop at the North Pole, where dance pieces feature toy-making elves and prancing reindeer, before shifting focus to a family playing in the snow. When Santa visits that same family on Christmas Eve, Santa is frightened by a mouse, hits his head on the mantel and is knocked unconscious. The family's children and an elf must complete Santa's trip around the world. The second act is largely devoted to the fantastical places and creatures they meet on their journey.
"We wanted it to be fun and family-friendly," says Risco, who hopes audiences will embrace its light-hearted humor.
"There's a lot of comedy in it, between Santa Claus and the little mouse," Risco says, "and we have special effects with projections and things like that, which is a clever way to keep the audience entertained during set changes."
In addition to the 12 dancers comprising Kentucky Ballet's professional company, The Night Before Christmas includes dozens of student performers as young as 5 years old. Since Risco created the ballet from scratch, he was able to customize roles and choreograph dances for students at different levels in their training.
Risco himself dances the lead as Santa Claus, and the youngest dancers play elves or fairies.
Kentucky Ballet Theatre usually performs The Nutcracker each December. But because they alternate performance space at the Lexington Opera House every other year with the Lexington Ballet, Risco says, they wanted to offer audiences something new in alternate years.
"We will alternate between The Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas," he says of Kentucky Ballet Theatre's future holiday programming.
Besides offering audiences something different, switching between the two shows gives the ballet troupe's students a broader range of live performance experience.
"It's always good to have a break and do something else," he says. "If you always do the same thing, you won't be creative, you won't be successful."