51 years since first full-length, locally produced THE NUTCRACKER was presented in Little Rock at Robinson Auditorium

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 (which would be finalized in the summer of 1969).
  • 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.

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 $184,775 in 2019.

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, it has certainly been on stage most of the years since then.  The overwhelming response to this production set the stage for it to become a much-loved holiday tradition in the city.

Little Rock Look Back: 1968 THE NUTCRACKER is largest production to date at Robinson

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.

 

LR Cultural Touchstone: Lorraine Albert Cranford

Lorraine Albert Cranford formalized ballet training and performance in Little Rock.  Together with her husband, she was the founder of Ballet Arkansas—a company that traces its roots to the Little Rock Civic Ballet of the 1960s—as well as a dance teacher.

Lorraine Albert was born on September 4, 1918, in Steubenville, Ohio, to Henri Albert and Arthurine Van Klempette Albert. Her mother was a ballroom dancer who started her daughter in dance classes. By the time she was three, her family lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Albert studied ballet under Karl Heinrich in Pittsburgh and went to New York at age fifteen to continue her dance training. Her training was not limited to classical ballet, and she studied and danced in the same shows as famous performers such as Gene Kelly and George M. Cohen.

She married D. Cater Cranford, a dancer originally from Little Rock, with whom she had performed. They had one daughter. They moved to Dallas, Texas, and lived in a house formerly owned by the outlaw Belle Starr. In 1957, they founded the Cranford House of Ballet, which developed dancers for the Dallas Civic Ballet, later named the Dallas Ballet. The company was dissolved in 1988.

In 1966, D. Cater Cranford moved to Little Rock, where he founded the Little Rock Civic Ballet; Lorraine Cranford joined him in Little Rock later. D. Cater Cranford died in 1977, and Lorraine Cranford founded Ballet Arkansas in 1978. Ballet Arkansas is perhaps best known for its annual production of The Nutcracker, which had begun with the Little Rock Civic Ballet. Ballet Arkansas has also contributed to the formation of most of the other ballet companies in central Arkansas, such as the Arkansas Festival Ballet, established in 2000. In addition to her work establishing ballet schools and companies in Arkansas, Cranford was a teacher herself and even performed as the grandmother in The Nutcracker.

Cranford died on December 3, 2004.