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Boston Ballet plans a virtual ‘Nutcracker’ while aiming to return to the stage by May

A scene from Boston Ballet's 2019 performance of "The Nutcracker." Footage from past dress rehearsals will be edited into a one-hour online and televised production this year.
A scene from Boston Ballet's 2019 performance of "The Nutcracker." Footage from past dress rehearsals will be edited into a one-hour online and televised production this year.Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

While Boston Ballet’s Snowflakes won’t be dancing across the stage of the Citizens Bank Opera House this upcoming holiday season, you will be able to watch them on your TV and computer screens. The company on Tuesday announced a “reimagined” 57th season, and it is an ambitious blend of live and virtual offerings, including a one-hour version of “The Nutcracker” that will be broadcast on television and available online.

Like most major dance companies, Boston Ballet has been struggling to find ways to create engaging new programming that resonates with audiences yet keeps everyone safe, especially its performers.

“Many companies still have no idea when they will bring dancers back. The whole industry [is] trying to figure out how to survive,” said artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “I could not be happier to be in the position we are six months after March 12. This keeps the company moving forward.”

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The season has three major components, including the virtual presentation of “The Nutcracker.” Through a partnership with NBC Boston, a condensed version of Boston Ballet’s signature production with narrative elements will begin airing on Nov. 28, with additional broadcasts on NECN and Telemundo, plus on-demand viewing opportunities. For a limited time, Boston Ballet’s website also will host a free viewing of the production, edited from previous years' dress rehearsals at the Opera House.

While the airings won’t produce the revenue of what has become the company’s cash cow, the company said it is energized by the potential for a big audience. “The idea that in this moment we could be reaching more people than ever in our history is hugely exciting and motivating,” said Meredith (Max) Hodges, Boston Ballet executive director.

In addition, the company will offer its first-ever virtual season, BB@yourhome. The paid subscription series features six programs of new Boston Ballet performances filmed live from the company’s studio. (Dancers start rehearsals Sept. 21, working together in groups of no more than 10.) The series opens Nov. 19-29 with “Forsythe Elements,” featuring live-capture excerpts of works by legendary choreographer William Forsythe, who also will lead a conversation with company dancers. For the holiday season, Boston Ballet complements “The Nutcracker” airing with “The Gift” (Dec. 17-27), for which company dancers create new divertissements to Duke Ellington’s bluesy jazz classic, “Nutcracker Suite.”

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In 2021, the series includes “Look Back, Focus Forward” (Jan. 21-31), “Celebrating Jorma Elo” (Feb. 25-March 7), “The Art of Classical Ballet” (March 25-April 4), and “Process & Progress” (April 15-25), with world premieres by Nanine Linning and Ken Ossola.

The company is hoping to return to the Opera House for live, in-person performances by May 2021. Its two planned productions don’t require international travel by the artists, and they can be performed with shorter run times and without intermissions, Hodges said, to better maintain social distancing. “Off the chART” (May 6-16) features a world premiere by Forsythe protégé Stephen Galloway, former creative movement director for the Rolling Stones. The program also includes the company premiere of Forsythe’s “New Suite.”

The “ChoreograpHER” program (May 20-30) closes the season with five world premieres showcasing the power and innovation of the female creative voice, including Tiler Peck’s first work for the company.

Hodges said crafting the new season continues the company’s mission to “bring art and inspiration to audiences safely despite the constraints.”

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“Arts are how we mediate our human experience and are needed now more than ever to bring us together," she said. "This is an important season for all of us in the performing arts to experiment and innovate ways our art forms are created and fulfilled and whose voices are invited in.”

“The world has changed,” Nissinen said. “We pride ourselves on trying to be a ballet company of the future. If after 2021 we look the same, then we are a ballet company of the past. COVID, Black Lives Matter . . . we need to live in the reality of the world today. We hope this plan will be realistic, and after this, we can regroup next summer, when hopefully the world is different and we can start new. Let’s cross our fingers and hope the ground under us stays solid so we can walk, then run, and then fly.”