Deven Balsam knows that The Nutcracker seems old-fashioned. And yet the local DJ thinks Asheville creatives can still cull inspiration from the two-act Russian ballet.
Winter Court II, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 4, at New Mountain, reinterprets the yuletide narrative with a live fashion show set to edgy electronic tracks. It’s dark, playful and less “vanilla” than the original production, says Balsam. But it doesn’t stray far from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” and the many iterations that have since followed.
“It’s the night before Christmas in a beautiful house filled with beautiful people,” Balsam says, paraphrasing. During the show, emcee/narrator A.J. Palmateer will provide backstory — the tale of Maria, the young heroine, who is given a nutcracker by her godfather. Later that evening, when the clock strikes midnight, pure madness and magic ensue. The nutcracker transforms into a dashing prince, Maria staves off savage gingerbread men, and candies dance around in the Land of Sweets. It’s a lighthearted and well-known tale, which is why Balsam selected it for the night’s theme.
“It’s getting darker and colder outside, and it’s hard to feel good about things,” he explains. “I want the audience to feel the holiday joy, if only for a night.”
Apparel by fashion designer CocoNuco will be worn by models representing the flowers that waltz in Act 2. “Each garment is a whimsical composition of a dreamy character in the process of blooming,” says Nuco. “I use natural fibers, hand-dyed with locally grown pigments or salvaged plant matter, to create pieces ranging from wearable art to more functional garments.”
Claire Dima will be showcasing looks inspired by the sweets: a collection of delectable goodies (such as tea, coffee, chocolate, marzipan and ginger) that also join in during the final waltz. “The attire for tea is steampunky. It involves lots of stripes, a Victorian-inspired vest and a silly little hat,” says Dima. “Whereas ginger is bright, with lots of warm yellows.”
A hobbyist designer, Balsam’s looks are a bit darker. His heroic mice sport a palette of blacks and grays accented with bold, edgy makeup. They are led by the Rat King played by Jerem Leeman.
Guests can also expect to see designs from C. Anne King, Amanda Rose, Susan Sertain and more. Balsam met many of the artists while planning the inaugural Winter Court a year ago, and a Midsummer Night’s Runway before that. Both shows were inspired by local artist Duncan Chaboudy‘s FASHMOB, a rotating event that brought together models, designers and photographers for a night of fashion.
“Duncan created a safe space for people of all backgrounds to experiment,” says Balsam. So, when Chaboudy took a temporary break from FASHMOB, Balsam decided to step in and host a similar show: “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do an event like this myself?’”
With unseasonably high temperatures, A Midsummer Night’s Runway proved to be a grand (and hot) undertaking. But thanks to encouragement from community members, chiefly veteran Bob Nagan (who will be modeling as Uncle Drosselmeyer at New Mountain), Balsam went on to host the first Winter Court.
“There was so much serendipity,” he says. “I told the designers to explore any fantasy theme they wanted, and it turned out really cohesive.”
He is hoping for a similar turnout at Winter Court II, though interpreting The Nutcracker has its own challenges. “When I think of fashion runway shows, I think of the coolest of the cool looking fierce as hell,” says Balsam. “But The Nutcracker can be really uncool.”
Transforming the fable has required extra creativity. When it comes to music, for instance, Balsam is appealing to modern sensibilities by adjusting the tempo or adding a house mix on top of a Tchaikovsky composition. In that way, the music is reflective of the show overall: unapologetically nontraditional.
“It’s out there,” says Balsam. “But I love taking iconic pieces and reimagining them.”
WHAT: Winter Court II
WHERE: New Mountain Asheville, 38 N. French Broad Ave., newmountainavl.com
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. $20 general admission/$10 with the donation of a new, unwrapped toy to benefit Toys for Tots