It’s a classic ballet held near and dear to the hearts of thousands—the story of a young girl, a Mouse King, a Sugar Plum Fairy, and a handsome Nutcracker Prince. The Nutcracker has remained largely unchanged for over one hundred years. Since 2003 at Columbus’ BalletMet, the ongoing production has been the version created by former artistic director Gerard Charles with the help of Robert Post: multi-talented comedian, mime, juggler, stuntman, and performer extraordinaire.
But one of the (admittedly few) types of performance that Post doesn’t have training in? Ballet.
“I could never accept mediocrity in myself. I would have been an okay ballet dancer. It’s really hard,” said Post. “What I do is really hard, but it was much more natural for me to go into my world than [the ballet] world. Yet, there’s something great about struggling through it and deeply appreciating what it takes to be good.”
Despite the fact that he is not a ballet dancer himself, he still found himself helping create productions for BalletMet. As former theatre and dance major at The Ohio State University, Post noted that it was a natural transition; but it was Gerard Charles, former artistic director of BalletMet, who brought him directly into the world of ballet when he requested Post’s help on Coppelia, Cinderella, and finally, The Nutcracker.
Before he was brought on to the BalletMet production, Post had never so much as seen—nor did he have any desire to see—the holiday classic. To introduce him to the ballet, Charles sent Post fifteen videos of full Nutcracker productions for Post to familiarize himself with.
Over three months, he watched those videos until he was ready to be sent to a “rubber room,” as he put it. But the bigger takeaway? Post said he still didn’t have a clue what the story was about.
“After the seventh or eighth one, I still didn’t know anything about it. I remember this woman, this beautiful woman, always in white, would come out, and people would cheer and throw roses at her. I thought, ‘Who is she?!’ ” Post laughed. “I had no idea! My first experience in watching these videos, and I’m gonna be honest, was, ‘I’ve made a huge mistake here. I don’t know how to make this good.’ ”
But right there, in that moment of confusion, was Post’s inspiration.
“I’m a director, and I’m a mover, and I’m a bright person…I’m not the only one who doesn’t know, right?” Post said. “[BalletMet] was so excited because Robert was going to make The Nutcracker funny. I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what Robert is going to do. Robert’s going to be the first guy that creates a Nutcracker [that’s] crystal clear.’ ”
And so he did. Post’s co-production of The Nutcracker added clear characters, underplayed acting, and a voiceover that described, judiciously, what was happening on stage. These were radical suggestions that were initially unpopular with BalletMet, but soon seemed to make the show accessible to a wider audience. From Post’s perspective, that’s certainly been the case over the past fifteen years.
“It’s a different way of doing the ballet,” said Post on inventing new and unique story elements. “I’ve heard the show described as charming, and I love that. [That’s] the stamp that I put on it. I’ve had people come up to me at the North Market and say, ‘Are you Robert Post?’ and hug me… because of what I did with The Nutcracker. People said, ‘For the first time, I know what’s going on.’ I hear it all the time.”
A clear story being his main goal, Post still seemed able to create several new and complex comedic moments.
“Drosselmeyer is giving out presents. The bag begins to shake, and granny pops out. She’s gone through a time warp, in my mind, and so she’s in the middle of a drink,” Post explains. “She’s like, ‘what the?!’ Physical funny is a craft, and I’m good at that. Story, arc of story, characters, that’s hard. That became my number one priority.”
Even if people don’t necessarily find it funny, Post believes that the greatest gift he has given to the show, already known for its stunning production values, is that it is straightforward and enjoyable to a wider audience.
“Visually, it’s beautiful,” Post said with a smile. “It’ll knock you out. And the dancers are tremendous.”
The Nutcracker by BalletMet opens on December 7th at the Ohio Theatre. Visit capa.com for ticket information.
Story by Sam Welch.