In December 1968, the final stretch of Interstate 40 between Little Rock and Memphis was completed. (Little did anyone know that milestone merely meant work would change from construction to non-stop reconstruction.) Talks were underway about merging private Little Rock University with the University of Arkansas system. On the TV on December 19, “The Little Drummer Boy” TV special was being shown for the first time. Also, Arkansan Glen Campbell was one of the guest stars on Bob Hope’s Christmas TV special.
For those who did not sit at home watching TV, at Robinson Auditorium on December 19 and 20, 1968, the nascent Little Rock Civic Ballet (a forerunner to today’s Ballet Arkansas) presented its first production of THE NUTCRACKER. (There appears to be some debate as to whether this was the first complete production of this ballet in Little Rock.)
Under the direction and choreography of D. Cater Cranford, this production featured 135 performers, a fifty piece orchestra under the direction of Vasilios Priakos, and the largest number of stagehands in Robinson Auditorium’s history. The production cost $25,000 to mount. That would be the equivalent of just over $181,000 in 2018.
A large portion of the money went to renting sets from Dallas for the production. The costumes were designed and sewn by Cranford. He also appeared as Drosselmeyer in the production. His wife Lorraine, assisted with the choreography and also appeared on stage.
Though most of the dancers were local, the leading roles were danced by Bill Martin-Viscont, Nathalie Krassovak, Linda DiBona, Margo Dean and Carl Tressler. Some of the dancers who had rehearsed for the production were unable to participate due to several cast members coming down with flu in the days immediately prior to the production.
The production sold out both public performances as well as the daytime matinee for school children. The dress rehearsal on December 18 was opened up for children with disabilities to attend.
Though The Nutcracker has not been presented in Little Rock every year since 1968, the overwhelming response to this production set the stage for it to become a much-loved holiday tradition in the city.