There is one thing that 21st-century dancers have that previous generations of dancers did not: YouTube.
Luis Dominguez, artistic director for the Lexington Ballet Company, which opens The Nutcracker this weekend, says that current generations of dancers don't know how lucky they are to be able to research how various dancers and companies portray and stage classic shows such as The Nutcracker.
"My generation didn't have the wonderful opportunities that this generation has," Dominguez says. "When I was dancing in New York, if you wanted to research a role, even as late as the '90s, you had to go to the dance library in the Lincoln Center — actually, you had to call first and get an appointment — then they would bring out the reel to watch."
Dominguez encourages dancers to research dancers and companies they admire online to see how others have approached roles in The Nutcracker and other classical ballets.
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"It's a way for them to stay inspired and to try to connect with the audience and themselves as to why they do what they do," says Dominguez, who, after 11 years at the helm, is the company's longest-serving artistic director.
Forty years ago, the company's founding artistic director, Nels Jorgensen, had neither YouTube nor the resources of Lincoln Center behind him when he decided to found a ballet company in Lexington.
Jorgensen, a New Jersey native, had been a principal dancer with the highly acclaimed Joffrey Ballet in the 1950s and performed for both presidents Kennedy and Johnson as well as the Shah of Iran.
In 1974, he founded the Jorgensen Ballet Company in Lexington and produced two shows: Rebekah and The Nutcracker. The company would later be renamed the Lexington Ballet Company.
Since Jorgensen's production of The Nutcracker at Transylvania University in 1974, four decades of tradition have followed.
The annual performance of The Nutcracker, now staged at the Opera House, has become a staple of the community and a rite of passage for thousands of dancers of all ages and skill levels.
Dominguez says the appeal of The Nutcracker, apart from it being a Christmas tradition, is that there is a sense of being connected to a longer legacy in the dance profession, one that reaches beyond Jorgensen's founding all the way back to another December, this one in 1892 Russia, when Tchaikovsky's ballet was debuted to mixed critical reception.
The Nutcracker's long history doesn't stop contemporary groups from incorporating occasional updates to keep the work fresh and interesting.
Last year, Dominguez re-choreographed the Arabian dance in the second act, changing it from a solo to a pas de deux.
"It was very successful, very beautiful," Dominguez says.
Dominguez is also making a minor change to one of the technical elements of the show this year, which runs the next two weekends, by embracing a new kind of pyrotechnics in two key scenes.
"The audience always loves it," Dominguez says, adding that laws have changed regarding pyrotechnics in productions and now groups must have a $5 million insurance policy and make flame-resistant costumes in order to use pyrotechnics onstage.
Dominguez and his crew found a way around that by employing CO2 charges instead.
Tchaikovsky, Jorgensen, and many ballet dancers and choreographers might not have had CO2 charges or the Internet to help bolster their performances and outreach, but Dominguez is pleased with how ballet's legacy is continuing to evolve for the 21st century. He says new technology makes traditional dances and opportunities for dancers better than ever.
"I think it's night and day. There's no comparison," Dominguez says of the pre-Internet era. "If you were in a small town, say you lived in Corbin or Williamsburg, and you were studying dance, you didn't have a chance. You would have to emigrate."
Dominguez says he is also excited about increasing the company's online visibility with the assistance of the live-stream capabilities that will be made possible thanks to a recent NEA grant that LexArts received to live-stream local arts opportunities online.
"The smaller companies like us now have wonderful opportunities because we are now a product online," Dominguez says. "Now we have an outlet to the world. Hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of that."