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Holiday classic takes center stage

DALLAS -- Many a young ballet dancer has dreamed of performing the Sugar Plum Fairy, or any of the other numerous lead characters in "The Nutcracker."

Dancers Emily Wright, Spencer Davis and Kearsten Turley (from right) rehearse a number on Thursday.

Photo by Pete Strong

Dancers Emily Wright, Spencer Davis and Kearsten Turley (from right) rehearse a number on Thursday.

December 05, 2012

DALLAS -- Many a young ballet dancer has dreamed of performing the Sugar Plum Fairy, or any of the other numerous lead characters in "The Nutcracker."

Friday and Saturday, 65 local dancers will have that chance when Dallas Ballet & Academy of Dance's production of the holiday classic takes the stage at Bollman Auditorium.

This marks the first time Dallas Ballet has taken on the production, an ambitious undertaking that has taken more than a year to prepare for the stage.

"It is a big production to put on because it is full of little dances, so there is lots of costumes, lots of dancers, lot of changes in music, and lots of entering and exits," said Dallas Ballet owner Stephanie Ochoa.

The "little dances" Ochoa references are in the second act, which is primarily dancing. The plot of the two-act ballet plays out in the first act. After intermission, the ballet becomes an extraordinary delight for those who love dancing and elaborate costumes.

Stephanie Ochoa, left, directs a rehearsal Thursday as Herr Drosselmeyer (Charles Johnson) and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Spencer Davis) look over stage directions.

Photo by Pete Strong

Stephanie Ochoa, left, directs a rehearsal Thursday as Herr Drosselmeyer (Charles Johnson) and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Spencer Davis) look over stage directions.

"That is everybody's favorite part of 'The Nutcracker,' if you ask them," Ochoa said. "It's a really good ballet to take little children to because they don't have to follow this long, convoluted plot from beginning to end."

That also means it captures the imagination of dancers from a very young age.

Brianne Schetzel, 13, who plays Marzipan as her main role, has been waiting for the opportunity to move from fan of the ballet to cast member.

"When she (Ochoa) said we were going to do it, I got really excited because I would get to be part of my favorite ballet, instead of just watching it," she said.

More than just an opportunity to fulfill a dream, "The Nutcracker" also is a chance to measure a dancer's skill against classic ballet choreography in the lead roles.

"When I think of doing a professional ballet, `The Nutcracker' is the one that comes to mind," said Spencer Davis, 19, an advanced ballet student who is the Sugar Plum Fairy. "The music is the most recognizable, so even if it's a smaller production, it feels like it's a really big deal."

Wanting to give each of her dancers time on stage, Ochoa wrote original choreography to include all the styles taught at Dallas Ballet -- jazz, tap, hip-hop and ballet.

Elizabeth Sutton, 15, a jazz dancer with eight years of experience, is playing the Rat King, one of the lead dancing roles. Other parts, including the Rat King's troupe, are hip-hop dancers. The gingerbread men are tappers.

Each of Ochoa's classes has a featured dance in the ballet appropriate to their skill level. She said dancers can track their progress through the years in the parts they land. Youngsters begin as baby sugar plums and angels, and work their way up to advanced roles, such at the Sugar Plum Fairy.

"It's fun to do one show like that every year so they can count how they are growing up," Ochoa said.

While the performers have been focusing on their parts, Ochoa and some dedicated parent volunteers have been working on logistics for what is the studio's biggest production since it opened in 2005.

"It's sort of like putting a wedding together, in terms of all the people you have to coordinate ...," Ochoa said. "I have a lot of people who help me now. I couldn't have done this when I was doing it all by myself."

Even with 65 dancers, Dallas Ballet doesn't have enough performers to cover all the parts, so several dancers play multiple roles. Five of the production's lead dancers combine to play 25 parts.

"It's a lot choreography to remember and it's exhausting," Davis said. "But there is nothing I would rather be doing."

After more than a year of rehearsing, Davis, Schetzel, Sutton and fellow leads Keely Scherzinger (Dew Drop) and Emily Wright (Arabian Coffee) say they are eager to dance for an audience.

"We've been doing this for so long, I think everything is coming together," said Wright, 16. "This is what all this hard work is for -- dancing in front of everybody. This is why we go through all the pain and long hours."

If You Go ...

What: Dallas Ballet & Academy of Dance's "The Nutcracker."

When: Friday and Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Bollman Auditorium, Dallas High School, 1250 SE Holman Ave., Dallas.

Admission: $7.50. Tickets are available at Dallas Ballet, 131 SW Court St., Dallas, or at the door (if not sold out).

For more information: 971-218-0121.

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