Holiday Tradition: Terpsichore's 'Nutcracker' Creates Christmas Magic
What would the holiday season be without "The Nutcracker"? The timeless classic has become a special highlight of the Sandhills holiday season.
Creating an air of Christmas magic, Terpsichore, the Southern Pines dance studio, presents "The Nutcracker" this weekend with performances Saturday, Dec. 20, at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 21, at 2 p.m. at Owens Auditorium at Sandhills Community College.
The history of this famous ballet, with music by Tchaikovsky, discloses that the first production in St. Petersburg, Russia, more than 100 years ago, was a dismal failure. The Russians considered the plot deficient and thought it was inappropriate to have children dancing in a professional presentation.
The work wasn't performed in the United States until 1934, and then with the production staged by George Balanchine, the noted choreographer, in 1954 in New York City. It became an overnight success. Balanchine's choreography was designed to make children a central part of the scenario, and the more than 175 students of Terpsichore who will take part in this year's production of "The Nutcracker" are carrying on the Balanchine tradition with style and grace.
Since opening her studio 17 years ago, Kellye Parks has made "The Nutcracker" a community tradition. She finds staging it each year a challenge, but one she thoroughly enjoys.
"The difficult part is the organization of the details," she says. "Casting an increasing number of students, securing costumes for all of them, adding to the scenery to keep the production new and fresh. I have learned to delegate, relying on my teaching staff. They are great, and we make a good team."
A very rewarding part of this year's production for Parks is to see her daughter, Kasey, performing in the role of Clara. She was chosen after participating in the regular audition process.
"Actually, there are five Claras," Parks says. "One for each of the three public performances, and two for the school performances to be given on Friday, in one of which Kasey will appear. I like to give the students as many opportunities to perform as possible, so we double or triple, or even as in the case of Clara, quintuple-cast many of the parts."
The senior Terpsichore students are sharing their roles with some of the younger students. For example, senior Krystyna Goudy is appearing as the Snow Queen, together with freshman Rebecca Wolonick.
The Dream Clara role will be danced by senior Ashley Absher and by junior Blair Puleo. Along with senior Meghan Osborne, Puleo also will portray the sultry Arabian Princess. And senior Emily Smith has the choice role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which will be danced in one of the school performances by sophomore Elizabeth Sheets.
Most of the students have been dancing since they were preschool age, and have progressed through the years, playing parts first as mice, party children, and soldiers, then to the ensembles of dancing snowflakes, candy canes and delicate flowers, and finally to the leading roles.
"Some people would probably think that doing the same ballet every year becomes boring or repetitive, but I find it exciting," says Meghan Osborne.
Ashley Absher agrees.
"Dancing in 'The Nutcracker' is so exhilarating because I have performed in it since I was five years old," she says. "Being able to be a part of it each year has shown me how much I love to dance and perform. This experience has helped me grow with confidence and improved my work ethic."
Emily Smith, who has been performing in "The Nutcracker" for 10 years, observes that it has become a huge part of her life.
"And because it means so much to me, even though it is going to be the last time I dance in a Terpsichore production of the Christmas classic, I plan to pursue a career in teaching ballet, and I hope to build the same love I have for dance in my students," says Smith.
The roles of the Dream Clara, the Arabian Princess and the Sugar Plum Fairy all call for a partner, and Kellye Parks has arranged for guest artists to portray the roles of the Dream Nutcracker Prince, the Arabian Prince, and the Cavalier. Returning to the Sandhills to dance the role of the Cavalier is Ben Hankinson, a senior in the University of South Carolina's dance performance program.
Hankinson's early training was at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School and the Long Beach Ballet Arts Center. At USC, his experience in dance has been widened by an emphasis on modern dance, and in that connection, a group of USC students performed a Martha Graham work at a dance festival at Hunter College in New York City this summer.
"Growing up in a classical dance background, it was stimulating to see other works of contemporary choreographers, and later that same week we also appeared in a regional competition in a piece set on the USC company by Alan Hineline, now artistic director of Ballet Philippines," says Hankinson.
The Dream Nutcracker Prince and the Arabian Prince will again be Serguei Chtrykov, who has been a regular guest artist for Terpsichore's Christmas and spring programs for the last several years. Chtrykov, a graduate of the Moscow Ballet Academy in Russia, began his professional career dancing with the Kremlin Ballet and The Kinetic Theatre in Moscow, where he received an award for outstanding performance.
As a principal dancer and soloist, he has performed with the Columbia City Ballet in South Carolina and as a guest artist with ballet companies throughout the Southeast, including those in Knoxville, Macon, Spartanburg, Atlanta and Savannah.
"I never get tired of dancing in 'The Nutcracker,'" Chtrykov says. "It is one of my favorite classical ballets, along with 'Giselle' and 'Swan Lake.' And over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of watching the students at Terpsichore grow and develop. I know they watch the videotapes of past performances, and in that way they learn what is expected. But I also find that they are constantly trying to match the standards of excellence that have been set for them by their teachers, and so the level of performance gets higher each year."
Partnering with a male dancer requires advanced technique, and as Ashley Absher describes it, "a totally different dance experience than just taking regular dance classes."
Meghan Osborne concurs.
"It requires a lot more commitment than dancing solo," she says. "Taking one wrong step can ruin the whole lift, and you have to learn to trust yourself and your partner."
Emily Smith adds, "You have to be aware of your partner, and know he will be there to catch you. Maintaining balance and controlling my center of gravity are some elements I have learned to prepare myself for partnering."
Blair Puleo sums up her feelings by saying, "It's by far my favorite part of dancing. The female dancer cannot just rely on the male dancer, she has to bring her own ability and dance background to the performance. Then in return both dancers bring out the best in each other, and it makes the whole show more enjoyable to watch."
Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students, children and senior citizens, and are available at the door, or can be obtained by calling 695-1116.
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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