New location for the nostalgic nutcracker

Local holiday tradition prevails despite pandemic

Photo courtesty of Art and Seek at

Hand-painted backgrounds, gorgeous Victorian-style dresses, a very recognizable Christmas soundtrack, and a fan-favorite wooden Christmas character all return for their 33rd anniversary. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, The Festival Ballet of North Central Texas will continue with its tradition of The Nutcracker on December 18, 19 and 20 in a new location, the Gaylord Texas Ballroom.

The decision to do the performance during the pandemic was a long process, said Eldar Valiev, Director of FBNCT and owner of Denton Ballet Academy, the studio that puts on the production.

“First I had to make the decision to run or not to run the studio,” Valiev said. “Then when it came to quarantine I couldn’t make decisions for Nutcracker because it was uncertain times. I didn’t decide by myself; we have the Board of Directors, and we started talking about this [situation].”

Valiev said they weighed out the pros and cons to see what decision they would come to.

“When the situation got a little bit better, they started opening businesses,” Valiev said. “We just thought we couldn’t lose this year, this opportunity, because so many students and parents have been waiting for it.”

Valiev believed that his students were disciplined enough to be able to do the production in a safe environment.

“The thing is that, I believe, our dancers and our students are more disciplined than regular people because ballet is all about discipline. There is any easier adaptation for dancers than other people.” Valiev said. “I believe that for ballet students it was kind of like ‘If we need to wear a mask, we have to.’” 

Many necessary precautions are taken during rehearsals to keep people as safe as possible like disinfecting props and keeping social distance. 

“I know it’s really hard, but we’re still trying to keep the social distance,” Valiev said.

Other changes to make the production COVID safe included a drop in the number of cast members.

“Usually we have close to 200. This time we have [half of that],” Valiev said. “It was for everybody’s safety. We had less cast, not like in previous times. We had Baby Buffoon up to three casts; we have one cast. Angels, we reduced to 12 instead of 18. Party guests, we usually have 10 couples now we have six.”

Although FBNCT’s decided to continue with their production in spite of COVID-19, not everyone made the same decision. In the 32 years that the FBNCT has done their production, it’s been at TWU’s Margo Jones hall, but after the university decided to not host performances during the pandemic, Valiev had to start looking for a new venue. 

“We were, as usual, arranging things as early as possible,” Valiev said. “Everything went pretty smooth. We were about to sign the contract, and then they decided to not host any shows. I started thinking, ‘We need to find something else.’” 

The search for a new venue started in Denton, but results were shortcoming.

“In Denton we don’t have too many venues that fit our drops,” Valiev said. “Some [places] like UNT, they aren’t hosting [any shows], others were too small,” Valiev said. 

With no luck finding a stage in the studio’s hometown, the search moved elsewhere.

“We started looking, and then one of the options was the Gaylord Texan,” Valiev said.

The resort, unfortunately, didn’t have any opening for the originally desired dates of December 11-13. 

“We went there and they said, “We don’t have anything for this time when you’re planning to do The Nutcracker,” Valiev said. “ We have [a different] open weekend.”

Although changing the date of the performance was not ideal, the size of the venue played an important part in selecting the Gaylord as the performance hall.

“I saw the stage… [It’s] actually bigger than Margo Jones, and the auditorium is huge,” Valiev said. “ I said ‘That’s even better, because the more space we have, the safer we are.’”

The safety of the cast and audience is a huge concern for the director when it comes to this year’s production, and Valiev wanted to ensure that the Gaylord would take the necessary precautions.

“They said they were going to put six feet distancing in the rows, and then they will stagger the chairs,” Valiev said. “Here you go. Let’s do it here.”

Another concern for Valiev was the loss of the Denton audience that would usually go to Margo Jones. 

“Of course, it’s not a good thing to lose the Denton audience, but you know they can move,” Valiev said. “They can drive there. It’s not far. It’s about 30 minutes driving, and everybody knows that resort.”

Valiev is excited for this year’s production because he believes that it’s important for the community.

“Of course I’m most excited that we are still able to do it, and still be able to perform, and still be able to bring that joy from classical ballet of this beauty to the audience,” Valiev said. “That’s what they really need now. They will come and just forget during this performance, what we’re dealing with right now.

Although many cast members are excited for this year’s production, probably the most excited about the performance is freshman Allison Wehby, who was cast in the lead role of Clara.

“When I first found out I was Clara I screamed and ran around the house for 30 minutes,” Wehby said.  

Wehby is a long time veteran of The Nutcracker and DBA.

“This is my 11th year dancing at DBA, … [and] my 10th year doing the Nutcracker for Festival Ballet,” Wehby said. 

Wehby’s journey in dance actually started with The Nutcracker

“I first saw The Nutcracker when I was four years old and it amazed me how beautiful these dancers were,” Wehby said. “Nutcracker is really the start of dancing for me and what inspired me to get into ballet in the first place.”

Although Wehby is excited, there have been some changes that have made her role more challenging.

“Since there’s a lot of partnering for my character, we’ve had to make a few changes in the choreography which made it a little harder for me,” Wehby said. 

In addition to these difficulties, Clara is not the only role that Wehby plays in this year’s production, due to cast cuts.

“I play Clara in Act 1 and 2,” Wehby said. “Then I also play Garden Attendant and Flower in Act 2. Finally, I play a Snowflake in Act 1.” 

Some changes though, are a bit easier to accept than others.

“While Margo Jones Theater will always have a special place in my heart, I’m really excited to have a change of scenery,” Wehby said. “The Texas Ballroom is beautiful and can fit a lot more people while staying socially distanced.

Wehby knew early on that COVID-19 wasn’t going to stop her from dancing this year.

“I decided at the beginning of this dance season, that COVID wasn’t going to stop me from doing what I love most, but I would also stay safe of course,” Wehby said.

Wehby also wanted to thank the cast and dancer’s who made this performance happen during a pandemic.

“Thank you so much for making this production possible,” Wehby said. “Nutcracker is a big part of my life and I don’t know what I would do without it. Also, thank you to the community for supporting [us] by coming to our production. It means so much to me and all the dancers who have put blood, sweat, and tears into this show.”

Wehby recognizes that this year’s production of the Nutcracker is really important.

“This is a really hard time we’re all going through and everything is so different now. We need something familiar to make us smile,” Wehby said.

Valiev also had a similar sentiment on why this year’s production was so important.

“[Bringing joy] is our important mission. That’s what we’ve been doing for many years, and especially in these times,” Valiev said. “This is our answer to this virus.”


The Festival of North Central Texas’ production of The Nutcracker will take place on December 18 at 7:30, Dec. 19 at 2:30 and 7:30 and Dec. 20 at 2:30 in the Gaylord Texan Ballroom in Grapevine. 

Tickets can be purchased for either $30, $35, or $40 on the company’s website at: