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The story in a nutshell
Rarely performed <i>Golden Pecan</i> is a prequel to <i>The Nutcracker</i>
Sue Braddy, left, helps dancers prepare

EVER WATCHED The Nutcracker and wondered what’s the deal with that Drosselmeyer dude? And for that matter, why everyone gets so worked up about the nutcracker itself? I mean, it’s just a nutcracker, right?

The answers to those age-old questions lie in a little-known “prequel” ballet which lays out the whole storyline for the famous holiday classic.

Known by various titles, such as “The Hard Nut” and “The Magic Nut,” the free performance this Friday night at the Lucas has been tweaked for a Georgia audience, going by the name The Golden Pecan in honor of our favorite native nut.

“This is a very original adaptation of a ballet that’s rarely done, and a story that’s rarely told,” says Sonja Wallen, administrative director of Savannah Danse Theatre, which is staging the performance starring students from Shuman Middle School and Savannah Arts Academy.

“It really helps clear up a lot of things you see in The Nutcracker that don’t always make a lot of sense.”

The plot in a nutshell — ha, ha — involves a younger Drosselmeyer, who serves as the king’s inventor. The king, whose favorite food is sausage, wants to have a huge feast, so the queen organizes a sausage-making party.

But the night before the banquet, a resident rodent called Mrs. Mousericks and her seven sons sneak in and eat all the sausage but a few little morsels.

“The king is infuriated, so he orders Drosselmeyer to invent a trap for the mice,” Wallen says. “He baits it with the few remaining crumbs of sausage, and all the mice go for it and are killed except Mrs. Mouserinks herself. She vows to get revenge on the king.”

Flash forward to the birth of Princess Perlipat, guarded from rodent revenge by seven nursemaids and seven tomcats, who — this being a ballet and all — promptly fall asleep, allowing Mrs. Mouserinks to cast a spell on the young princess, giving her the face of a pig.

On orders of the king, Drosselmeyer tries to discover a way to break the spell.

“He figures out the only way is to find a special nut covered in gold, and a certain clean-shaven young man has to be one to crack open the nut,” Wallen says.

So who finds the nut, or in this case, the Golden Pecan? Who is that mysterious clean-shaven young man?

And will Princess Perlipat remain porcine, or will she get her human face back?

We won’t give too much away here, but suffice it to say that the pecan is found and the spell is reversed. But the ever-mischievous Mrs. Mousericks helps to turn a handsome young man into a wooden nutcracker.

“And that’s why the nutcracker is so special,” Wallen concludes.

Savannah Danse Theatre Artistic Director Suzanne “Sue” Braddy got the idea from a recent Russian ballet of the legend of “The Hard Nut” and decided to fold this show into her usual annual effort to mount The Nutcracker, performed at the Lucas the day after (see story this issue).

“Sue thought it was interesting, so she did some research and adapted various pieces from different versions and made it into a version we could do,” Wallen says.

This show Friday night will be danced by performing arts students from Shuman Middle School and Savannah Arts Academy, with a couple of guest dancers from Braddy’s troupe.

“Sue had been teaching dance at Shuman and was familiar with the students, so she thought this was something they would really enjoy,” Wallen says, adding that Shuman’s head of performing arts, Christina Powell, also teaches at Savannah Danse Theatre. “It’s a natural fit.”

The Golden Pecan is funded through the Weave-a-Dream program of the city’s Cultural Affairs Department.

“This is the first time we’ve received money from the city, and we’re happy they have this program to help us get started. Everyone has been very helpful,” Wallen says. “Also Gulfstream Aerospace gave us a generous grant to help with set production.”

Wallen says though it’s a traditional tale, the dancing will all be contemporary in nature.

“We really encouraged everybody to have fun with this, that this doesn’t have to be as serious as the regular Nutcracker,” Wallen says. “We told the kids to be more creative, to take more liberties with the choreography.”

The production also includes drama students from Shuman.

“Some of the kids are really more actors than dancers, and we really wanted to play that up,” Wallen says. “They’re having a lot of fun with it.” cs

The Golden Pecan

Free performance of the 'Prequel' to The Nutcracker performed by students from Shuman Middle School and Savannah Arts Academy.

When: Fri., Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Lucas Theatre

Cost: Free

Info: 525-5050,