For 25 years, “The Nutcracker” ballet has become something of an institution for Tyler Junior College. And, somewhat unintentionally, so has Tyler resident Tom Jones.
The college’s dance department has put on Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet every year for nearly three decades, and each year Jones has been involved with the production both on the stage and behind it. For years he’s filled the role of Uncle Drosselmeyer, the crafty toymaker who gives the magical nutcracker to his goddaughter, Clara. It’s a role which Jones savors each time he occupies it, but he said he’d never have thought to join the production in the first place without the encouragement of his wife.
“I need to give credit where credit is due. I would have never done this if my wife hadn’t said to me that they needed somebody in this production back in 1989. She said they needed men for the party scene. So my initial character was a party scene man. I told her, ‘I can’t do that.’ She said, ‘It’s easy,’” Jones said. “So after that, I told the director that I’d like to try out for the role of Uncle Drosselmeyer. She said to come back next year, so I’ve just kept going back.”
Jones, 61, also helps out behind the scenes (and has done so for as long as he’s been on-stage), building pieces of the set or even doing things like modifying the giant swan so that it can be remotely controlled. He said it’s his chance to contribute and give back to the community.
“I’ve had the privilege to get to dance and be on stage with lots of young people. Well, I don’t really dance. I’m more a supporting role for the Claras. They do the dancing and I’m just kind of there holding my hand out for them to balance on,” Jones said. “I attempt to do a little dancing during the party scene, but it ends up just being funny than any kind of real dancing. It’s just fun.”
Even though he hasn’t had a free Saturday in 25 years, Jones said he keeps going back simply because it’s too much fun not to. He feels connected to the character of Uncle Drosselmeyer, so much that he considers the part something of an alter ego.
“It’s a great part. I feel honored that they would let me keep doing it. They could have said, ‘No, we want to find someone else to do this.’ Knowing the part, at least to some degree, it’s helped,” Jones said. “I feel like, in a way, I could be an Uncle Drosselmeyer. I build stuff. I’ve been a shop teacher. I like to fix things. I’m not afraid to take something apart and put it back together. I just like the part and I get to wear a great costume.”
This will mark the 25th year that Jones and TJC have performed “The Nutcracker.” However, this year’s performance will be on a grander scale than is normal. This year, the dancers will be accompanied by the East Texas Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Richard Lee. Most annual performances by TJC feature recorded music, but a live performance brings an exciting energy that simply cannot be replicated.
“There is something true and real about the sound and you experience the human element. You are also aware that something could go wrong at any moment. Recordings are terrible,” Lee said. “I have recordings and listen to them, but the more I find out about the process behind them they just feel like such artless things. Even a classical recording is so unrecognizable. It consists of hundreds or even thousands of little takes that can be seamless sounding but is not really representative of anything but cheating, cheating for the sake of technical purity. There’s nothing to hide behind in live music. You’re just putting it out there.”
Additionally, the production will feature world-class guest dancers Adrian Danchig-Waring and Abi Stafford.
Celebrating TJC’s 25th year to perform the ballet, “The Nutcracker” will be performed at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the University of Texas at Tyler’s Cowan Center. Tickets range in price from $20 to $55.
For additional information or for tickets, visitwww.cowancenter.org .