Through the Lens: Sharing the Formative Years of The Cincinnati Ballet with Photographs from Sandy Underwood
By: Meghan Shimala, Volunteer with Cincinnati Museum Center’s Department of Photographs, Prints and Media
By happenstance, I reached out to Sandy Underwood through Facebook Messenger in December 2002, hoping to see photographs that she took for The Cincinnati Ballet. I recalled that Sandy was often present, from capturing everyday moments in the studio to the live performances. Sandy was the official photographer from 1971 to 1985 and I performed in The Nutcracker from 1979 to 1983. I performed as an angel, party child, bunny and ultimately Clara in 1982 and 1983.
When I reached out to Sandy, a dear friend of hers explained that her entire collection had recently been donated to Cincinnati Museum Center and kindly connected me with Arabeth Balasko, the museum’s Curator of Photographs, Prints and Media. Great fortune was presented to me when Arabeth and I met, and she arranged for me to begin archiving Sandy’s incredible collection.
I am beyond grateful to be entrusted with Sandy’s treasures. She truly captured all types of moments, from the challenges of practice to the perfect performance. I thoroughly enjoyed organizing and seeing all her work. Rediscovering picture after picture of my childhood idols is such a gift.
To think that their artistry, paralleled by Sandy’s artistry, may have been lost is overwhelming. Now, I’m diligently working to preserve this piece of Cincinnati Ballet history. Archiving Sandy’s collection is the essence of a labor of love, and I am honored to play a part in Sandy’s legacy!
The root of Sandy’s collection is approximately 1,770 contact sheets of the Cincinnati Ballet Company, beginning in October 1971. Each contact sheet has 36 thumbnail images of the negatives corresponding to the roll of film. I’m currently in the process of identifying and preserving about 63,720 photographic items!
For this holiday showcase, I have chosen a few photos that are treasures from the past and share small glimpses into the beginning years of Cincinnati Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker. These photos only begin to scratch the surface of retelling a beautiful story!
1974 Contact Sheet of roll #230. Labeled “Costumes for first CBC Nutcracker! So began the creative minds meeting and creating Cincinnati’s very own version of the beloved The Nutcracker.
When Cincinnati Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker was first performed in 1974, the Cincinnati-based Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurants, Inc. had been the ballet’s primary sponsor. Frisch’s remained The Nutcracker’s sponsor until 2017.
The entire 1976 Cincinnati Ballet Company with David McLain, Artistic Director, in the foreground.
Sarah Jessica Parker performed a couple roles in Cincinnati Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, most notably as a tiny mouse who did a headstand at the center of the stage and clicked her heels in time to a chiming grandfather clock. Sarah Jessica Parker is pictured here with David Blackburn, Assistant Artistic Director. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Sarah Jessica Parker in July 2013 when she arranged a beautiful memorial service for our beloved Mr. Blackburn. We have a shared experience of recognizing the profound impact Mr. Blackburn made in our young lives. He was kind, complimentary, enthusiastic and simply the light of the room!
David Blackburn stole the show with his colorful animation. The audience adored his adaptation of Mother Ginger and Dr. Drosselmeyer.
David Blackburn as Dr. Drosselmeyer and Meghan Condorodis Shimala as Clara. I was over the moon happy that my bow had been captured with a photo as Dr. Drosselmeyer greets Clara at the Christmas party! David Blackburn meant the world to me. The first time I performed as Clara, he came to find my mother at intermission and said, “I have never had a Clara say thank you when I handed her the Nutcracker before, but Meghan did!” I shared this story because it shows just how endearing Mr. Blackburn was. He never missed a detail and he never missed an opportunity to share it.
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