When Jacqueline Colledge, director of Utah Metropolitan Ballet, asked me if I would be interested in designing sets for a ballet production, I asked if I could design the costumes as well. I began researching the origin of the story of Snow White that very night. This project was a dream come true. It was as if everything I had done up until that point had prepared me. I had painted and drawn prosceniums, made paper dolls with costumes, and I sketched dancers for years while my daughter studied ballet. In the ballerina’s I found grace, beauty, strength, and elegance. Dancers became the subject for several paintings.I approached designing this project like I would any other art work. I found that the story of Snow White was full of metaphor and symbolism. I chose a specific blue for Snow White’s costume. Not only did it set her apart from all other dancers, it also symbolizes innocence and purity. One of my favorite costume details is Snow White's crown because it is designed to be a miniature version of the proscenium.On the edges of the proscenium, are two birds, an owl, and a dove. Because the owl hides in darkness and fears the light it is a symbol for the evil Queen who may have the ability to see what some cannot, but such knowledge undermines her own desires. The dove is a symbol of peace and innocence.At the center of the proscenium is a portrait of Snow White's mother who wishes her daughter’s beauty into being, but who tragically dies during childbirth. I painted Snow White's mother as an angel watching over her from heaven, constantly present throughout the entire ballet. On the mirror I painted a devil and an angel, symbolizing influences of good and evil.
The year following Snow White, I began designing the sets and costumes for Utah Metropolitan Ballet's production of the Nutcracker. Here are my program notes:
For me, not only is the Nutcracker a family tradition I share with my community during the holidays, it is a way for me to honor James Christensen’s legacy. My father was with me as I began the initial designs for this new nutcracker and I have incorporated many of his ideas he shared before passing on earlier this year. I specifically designed a flying ship in his honor that carries Clara and the Nutcracker to the Land of Sweets. I have used a voyage on a river as a metaphor for the journey of life in many of my paintings. Sometimes we travel alone, sometimes with friends and family, and often with a mixed group of strangers, human and not so. But the journey is inevitable, and our task is to make the best of the ever-changing voyage, We don’t always control the river, but we often have choices that determine what will happen next on our odyssey. - James C. Christensen Each scene holds symbolic forms, like the flying ship, which hold special meaning and wonder in this newly designed Nutcracker. Some sets were visualized more clearly from the onset. I wrestled with many ways, however, to make Clara’s transition into dreamland more cohesive. The final idea came to me as I awoke from my own dream one night. In the written story of the Nutcracker, there is a cabinet in the parlor of the Stahlbaum’s home that contains family treasures and cherished toys created by Godfather Drosselmeyer. This is where Clara places her injured Nutcracker, amongst her favorite dolls, for safe keeping during the night. What if the toy cabinet were part of the clock placed in the heart of the home, and on its shelves sat Clara’s dolls, which would become the characters she would visit in the Land of Sweets? The clock would act as a portal through which she would bravely begin her journey.