Nutcracker On The Hill Wins State History Award

Dance Arts Los Alamos Artistic Director Jonathan Guise is pictured with Heather McClenahan, former director of the Los Alamos Historical Society, left, and Liz Martineau, current LAHS Director. Courtesy photo


Dance Arts Los Alamos (DALA) has won the Historical Society of New Mexico’s Dorothy Woodward Award for its original production of Nutcracker on the Hill. Jonathan Guise, DALA Artistic Director, accepted the award April 9 at the Historical Society of New Mexico’s annual conference, held this year in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in partnership with the Arizona Historical Society. 

The Dorothy Woodward Award recognizes individuals and groups who have promoted the advancement of education in New Mexico history. According to the award selection committee, they found DALA’s production of Nutcracker on the Hill to be “a highly innovative and creative way to reach a mass audience through the arts and provide them with an educational experience on an important part of New Mexico history.”

Los Alamos Historical Society Director Liz Martineau commented, “The creative arts — music, dance, writing — have always been a part of Los Alamos history, and this ballet continues the tradition by weaving our unique place and time into the arts. This not only keeps our history alive but also binds us together as a community.” 

Jonathan Guise currently serves as the artistic director of DALA. He researched and created the original ballet Nutcracker on the Hill, presenting it through the support of the entire DALA family. The original presentations were in 2015 and 2016 and then staged again in 2019. In 2019, the decision was made to create a Trilogy of the Nutcracker on the Hill story. A second original ballet, Ratcracker on the Hill, was presented in December 2021 (due to delays from the Covid pandemic), and the third installation of the story, Sugar Plum on the Hill, is scheduled to be presented in December 2022. Each part of the trilogy weaves more historical facts into the story, creating a rich cultural production.

The original Nutcracker on the Hill was created and brought to life by DALA. It uniquely entwined important New Mexico history from the Manhattan Project era into a new, significantly historical, cultural event. Many hours of research in the Los Alamos Historical Society archive contributed to background on the original characters portrayed in the ballet to the reproduction of historically accurate backdrops and props for the show. DALA took the original famous Nutcracker and its essential elements and transformed them to fit a depiction of a famous holiday party that took place in Fuller Lodge in December 1944. The original Nutcracker begins at the home of a prominent resident for a Christmas party and has traditional dancing. Nutcracker on the Hill is transformed into the holiday party at Fuller Lodge, hosted by Gen. Leslie Groves, with Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and many other famous scientists, their wives, and children in attendance. 

The performers were provided with biographical information on the characters they were portraying so that essential elements of their personalities could be woven into the story. There were even some real familial connections, with Venita Lujan Chavez, the president of DALA Board of Directors, portraying her actual godmother, Carmen Gallegos, in the show. The original, traditional dancing in the party scene is replaced with swing dancing representing what would have happened at the 1944 party. Attention to historical details, down to the music selected for the show, brings 1944 Los Alamos to life in the ballet. 

Although this is a creative story as a ballet and takes some creative license in its storytelling, there is a significant connection to the actual history it is depicting, and all the historical stories are woven into this well-known production in a surprising and endearing fashion. At the time of its presentation, a Santa Fe New Mexican review commented that “DALA took a thrice-familiar classic and made it specific to its place in an enterprise that oozed ambition, enthusiasm, inclusion, and integrity.”  

The Santa Fe New Mexican described Nutcracker on the Hill as being “a production of the people, by the people, and for the people, which is just what a community-arts endeavor should strive for.” The creation and presentation of this historical ballet to the communities of Northern New Mexico allows for the introduction of Los Alamos and Manhattan Project history to a broader audience. The show’s representation of history is lively and intriguing and inspires the audience to dive deeper and learn more after the show. Historical storytelling aside, the entire trilogy of ballets being created and perfected by DALA are destined to become an important part of New Mexico cultural history.  

Martineau added, “We are so proud of Jonathan for the historical research that went into creating this work and for DALA’s many hours of work bringing this ballet to life. Congratulations!”