Think "Nutcracker" and you're likely to conjure up images of frothy, fun-filled holiday entertainment.
But for the Cincinnati Ballet, with an all-new $2 million production premiering at the Aronoff Center on Dec. 15, "Nutcracker" is a mammoth, multi-year undertaking that has involved hundreds of performers, dozens of vendors, countless administrative challenges and endless rounds of fundraising.

"It sounds crazy, doesn't it?" says company CEO and artistic director Victoria Morgan, who is also choreographing this new production. "But 'Nutcracker' is incredibly important to us. It represents close to 50 percent of our earned income every season. All of our ballets are important. But we are willing to go to extremes for 'Nutcracker' because of the enormous impact it has on our bottom line."
 
Just as significant, "Nutcracker" represents nearly all of the company's touring revenue. In recent years, the company has performed it in Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis and Anchorage.

This new "Nutcracker" is, by far, the costliest production ever staged by the company. As with all five earlier productions "” the first opened in 1974 "” the primary sponsor will be Frisch's Restaurants, with a contribution in excess of $600,000. In comparison, the recent production, which debuted in 2001, cost $500,000.

Where do you even begin with a project like this? It's not like you just turn to the dancers and say "hey, kids "” let's put on a ballet."

What should it look like? It's a ballet. But it's one that has to appeal to adults and children. It has to be fanciful and whimsical, but sophisticated enough that parents want to return. Every production has its quirks. But how far do you go to infuse it with your own character?

Ultimately, most important, how much would all this cost? The company could probably cobble together a "Nutcracker" for $250,000, but would it be something that people would want to see for the next 10 or 15 years? Probably not.

"We began planning for this "¢Nutcracker' before the last one opened a decade ago," says Morgan. "We established a "¢Nutcracker' fund and started earmarking certain donations to that fund, the way people set up retirement accounts."

But think about the decade since 2001. Like all of us, Cincinnati Ballet has had to follow a path that has been uncertain, unpredictable and sometimes even a little harrowing.

Let's take our own journey and see a few of the highlights of what's involved in bringing this ballet behemoth from concept to premiere.

2001
2006
2007
DECEMBER
2008
2009
FALL
FALL "”
OCTOBER
NOVEMBER
2010
JUNE
LATE NOVEMBER
DECEMBER 26
2011
JANUARY"” Six part-time seamstresses added to the payroll, supplementing the two full-time people in the wardrobe department. The six become full-time in June and will remain on staff until the ballet opens.
MAY "” New York-based Barbara Matera Ltd., one of the world's most renowned costume-makers, goes out of business, tying up work already begun on costumes for Sugar Plum Fairy, Sugar Plum Cavalier, Snow Queen and Snow King. The project falls behind schedule. Finally, Jan Parran, one of the shop's lead employees, steps in and agrees to create the costumes.
APRIL
SUMMER
AUGUST 20-21AUGUST  20
WEEK OF OCTOBER 24
OCTOBER 24
OCTOBER 31
DECEMBER 5
DECEMBER 15

     Corporate fund-raising can get incredibly creative.
     When you're trying to raise $2 million
"” that's the budget for the Cincinnati Ballet's new production of "Nutcracker"
"” you need every bit of creativity you can muster.
     When the ballet company approached Great American Financial about becoming a major donor, they included a one-of-a-kind offer .
     If Great American would sponsor the ballet's Snow scene, the company would design the Snow Queen's tiara.It would look like the fanciful summit atop Great American Tower "” the building gracing Cincinnati's skyline with the Princess Diana tiara top.
     Apparently, Great American loved the idea.
    When the ballet opens on Dec. 15, the Snow Queen will be wearing a bejeweled chrome-and-steel tiara designed by New York costume designer Jennifer Chapman. Chapman also created the tiaras for American Ballet Theatre's new production of "Nutcracker."
     For those who are absolutely smitten by the tiaras, the Ballet will be selling a $25 version of the piece at its boutique in the Aronoff lobby during the run of "Nutcracker."