BRATTLEBORO — To anyone who knows The Nutcracker ballet, surely one of the most delightful scenes is when Mother Ginger arrives in all her larger-than-life glory and suddenly the stage is filled with wee Bon Bons, or Polichinelles, spilling out from under her colossal skirt to twirl and dance.
The skirt is so big that the role of Mother Ginger is traditionally played by a tall male who can navigate in the about-100-pound-dress-full of children and work the apparatus under the skirt needed to open the curtain within to release the Pulichinelles.
For the Brattleboro School of Dance, which stages the ballet each winter, the parts that make Mother Ginger's skirt work are among myriad items lost by a big, mind-boggling mistake, and the school has taken to a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign for the community's help to replace them.
As of Oct. 10, the school has raised almost half of the campaign's current $10,000 goal.
Now in a landfill
The school's owner since 2018, Director Bridget Struthers, explains that, a few years ago, the school rented a storage unit to safely house the majority of its Nutcracker props and supplies.
"Shortly after the 2021 production, when we arrived to pick up the items, we found it empty," Struthers writes in the appeal.
"After some investigation, we discovered that the person responsible for clearing out units had mistakenly disposed of our belongings instead of the contents in the unit right next to ours," she says. "Everything we stored is now in a landfill."
The list of items is "long and expensive," Struthers explains, and includes the Mother Ginger apparatus, the Soldier and Kissy Doll boxes, the snow that falls during "Waltz of the Snowflakes," the dragon, numerous rolls of specialized Marley dance flooring, and all of the Victorian furniture for the iconic party scene.
"It's the most bizarre, fluke accident," Struthers told The Commons. "It's an honest mistake, but the consequences are staggering for us because a lot of that stuff in the storage unit is completely useless to most people. It's a bunch of old, handmade set pieces and things really specific to dance performances. I feel so silly, but we tallied the numbers and to replace everything it's at least $50,000."
Struthers is working with a lawyer, her insurance company, and the storage company's insurance, but the going is slow and the chance of recovering the financial lost is not guaranteed.
"Things are in motion, but the storage company is saying they're really not willing to pay anything," she says. "It's a long and slow process and, in the meantime, we have to put a show on, which is why we decided to do a GoFundMe. We probably won't ever recover as much as we need to."
The show will go on
Despite the overwhelming loss - and the fact that Struthers is getting married at the end of October - The Nutcracker performance is set to open Friday, Dec. 15.
"Brattleboro School of Dance is not willing to sacrifice our Nutcracker tradition," Struthers says. "Since the production is in a few short months, we are doing what we always do to make the show happen - thinking and working creatively as a community," she writes in the appeal, adding she thought about renting sets and props but decided to "use this as an opportunity to rebuild and remake and upgrade some of the designs."
The school is remaking props now with help from a father of one of the students, Rich Leavy of Southern Vermont Home, LLC of Brattleboro, who is helping remake sets and props. His daughter is also in The Nutcracker.
"Happy to do it. My daughter's been at the school for years, and Bridget and the rest of the teachers there have become a big part of her life and this is just an opportunity to say thanks and help them out in a pinch," said Leavy.
Some of his employees will work on the set, and other volunteers are welcome.
"The more, the merrier," Leavy said.
'Our community is just incredible'
"We have so much support," says Struthers. "Our community is just incredible. It will happen. It seems stressful - and it is, when I actually think about it - but there are so many people stepping in to help in so many ways that it feels manageable."
Everyone can help by volunteering to help rebuild sets, spreading the word about the school's programs, making financial donations, and soon, helping collect items on a list that will be shared on Facebook.
Brattleboro School of Dance has been providing dance instruction and staging productions for the past 45 years and has 150–200 students.
"Every year we strive to build upon and improve what we've done in previous Nutcracker productions," Struthers says, adding that she hopes with the community's help to stage "the best show yet."
"We need all the help we can get, and you can help us meet our goal," she says.
This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.