When BalletMet holds its annual Nutcracker Ball fundraiser Saturday, Dec. 14, guests will be able to view 12-foot nutcrackers that once were displayed during the holiday season at the State Auto Insurance building, 518 E. Broad St. in downtown Columbus
Like magic, the six giant figures will move and display lights on their uniforms.
But it isn’t magic that will bring the mechanical nutcrackers to life; it’s the skill, knowledge and work of two Grandview Heights High School seniors who are members of the school’s FIRST robotics team.
Carter Taylor and James Elliott began working on a restoration project in June in the warehouse at 1241 McKinley Ave. where the nutcrackers were being stored since State Auto donated them in February to BalletMet. They completed the project in November.
State Auto began displaying the nutcrackers on its building in 2008 and continued the annual display for a decade, said BalletMet executive director Susan Porter.
“We were so excited that State Auto thought to donate the nutcrackers to use, even if they didn’t move anymore,” Porter said. “They are a great way to promote our annual Nutcracker performances.
“The Nutcracker is all about magic and it’s almost magical that these two students have been able to get them working again,” she said. “It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do.”
The warehouse on McKinley is owned by Grant Douglass, a former Grandview Heights school board member who also serves as a coach for the high school’s FIRST team.
Douglass’ wife, Susan Douglass, serves as chairwoman of BalletMet’s board of trustees.
“I thought of Carter and James when we talked about trying to get the nutcrackers reanimated, because I knew they could do the job from the work they’ve done with our robotics team,” Grant Douglass said.
“It’s so impressive what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “They’ve done the work that a real-life AEP engineer would do.”
“When we started out, the pieces were all dismantled. It was like putting a puzzle together,” Taylor said.
“They were pretty easy to put together,” Elliott said.
What was difficult was finding the resources and parts they would need to allow the nutcrackers to move again, he said.
“We rebuilt the entire inside of the nutcracker,” Taylor said. “We made new bearings, new gears, new internal linkages – all from scratch.”
Elliott said some of the motors inside were busted, and the pair replaced power and light systems as well.
The process was fun and a major step up from FIRST team activities, in which student teams are directed to design and build a robot to perform specific tasks in competition, Taylor said.
“With FIRST, you have some guidelines and a set of perimeters to work under,” he said. “We kind of had to figure this out on our own.”
“I really enjoyed the problem-solving part of it,” Elliott said.
As part of their project, the students wrote a manual that can be used in the future to troubleshoot issues that may arise with the nutcrackers and determine what parts or repairs are needed, he said.
Elliott said he plans to attend Ohio State University next year to study electrical engineering.
Taylor plans to study mechanical engineering at Miami University of Ohio.
Their handiwork will be on display at the Nutcracker Ball, which will be held from 7 p.m. to midnight Dec. 14 at the warehouse building on McKinley.
The event, which is sold out, serves as a major fundraiser for BalletMet, Porter said. It’s held at a different location each year.
Tickets are available for Balletmet’s performances of “The Nutcracker,” which will be presented Friday, Dec. 13, through Dec. 28 at the Ohio Theatre.
“The Nutcracker is always such a popular show. We’ve been presenting it for 42 years at the holiday season,” Porter said. “Its popularity allows us to do some of the productions and activities during the year, including educational outreach programs at schools.
“Education is something BalletMet supports wholeheartedly, and it’s gratifying to give the students from Grandview a chance to put what they’ve learned into practice,” she said.
For more information or to purchase tickets, go to balletmet.org.