“Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker” runs Dec. 11-28 at the Fox Theatre.


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EACH YEAR, thousands of people see Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker, either continuing a holiday tradition or beginning a new one. The classic story comes alive with the help of 20 pounds of snow, a 38-foot-tall Christmas tree and a live orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s famous suite This year’s edition is the first Nut for four new company members, with the youngest, 21-year-old New Zealand native Coco Mathieson, dancing the Snow Queen. Mathieson is from Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and its second-largest city with 394,000 people (think Cleveland, Minneapolis or Arlington, Texas). She has performed with Germany’s Ballet Augsburg as a soloist and corps dancer in such works as Heroes and Divertimento 4 Amadeus. She trained at the Paula Hunt Dance School, first putting on her ballet shoes, tutu and pink tights at age 5. She began dancing in competitions, was scouted and offered a professional spot by the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne. “It was a big eye opener that there were careers in ballet,” Mathieson says. “I didn’t know it was possible to dance professionally.”

HER MOVE to Atlanta Ballet was a combination of good fortune and contacts. She knew Sharon Story, dean of the ballet’s Centre for Dance Education, from Australia. Story mentioned that Atlanta Ballet would be a good fit for Mathieson’s classic style.

A;essa Rogers and Rachel Van Buskirk. Photos by Charlie McCullers
Alessa Rogers and Rachel Van Buskirk. Photos by Charlie McCullers

“When I finished in Germany I didn’t have any plans to leave Europe,” Mathieson says. “But when I was offered a chance to dance with the Atlanta Ballet saying ‘no’ to such an amazing opportunity was not an option.” She reached Atlanta late last summer. One of her biggest adjustments: traversing the city by car instead of hopping on a bicycle to get where she’s going. Mathieson, thrilled to fill the Snow Queen’s pointe shoes, doesn’t see her role, or any single role, as more significant than the others. Being part of one of Atlanta’s holiday traditions is what’s most important to her. “When the Nutcracker is done right, with music, costumes and set pieces, it can create magic onstage,” she says. “I hope I can make people feel that way. The last time I performed in Nutcracker was my first year of Australian Ballet School, which was a while ago, but I’m excited to do it again.”

Dancers Tara Lee and Jonah Hooper in Arabian of Atlanta Ballet's Nutcracker. Photo by Charlie McCullers
Jonah Hooper and Tara Lee.

ATLANTA BALLET first danced George Balanchine’s version of The Nutcracker in 1959, but it’s never quite the same show from year to year. Artistic director John McFall likes to change it up a bit each season. Audiences this year will see a new Chinese divertissement (a dance sequence used as an interlude) that highlights the upper-level students. And they’ll see costumes created by costume shop director Tamara Cobus. She and her team began work in early August and, by the time the first slipper touches the stage, will have put in more than 2,000 hours of work. Mathieson can’t wait. “The family feeling of this company is incredible,” she says, “and I feel super lucky to be in the Nutcracker.” When she’s not inhabiting the magical winter wonderland onstage, she plans to bite into more of Atlanta. “All of the restaurants I’ve tried have been incredible. Being here is perfect for me, and I feel like I fit really, really well.”

About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project. Full disclosure: She’s also an artistic associate at Synchronicity Theatre.

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