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Friday, November 21, 2008  


Standard-Examiner correspondent
  Thoughts of “The Nutcracker” evoke visions of Sugar Plum Fairies, Snow Queens, Shepherdesses and Claras, but young Nutcracker gentlemen will be every bit as visible as the ladies when Ballet West’s annual Christmas treat comes to the Browning Center next weekend.

“Typically, people think that boys automatically get in,” says children’s ballet mistress Cati Snarr, “while for girls it’s very competitive. But this year, we had to turn away 13 boys, including my own son.”

It is unusual to be cast coming out the gate in one of the featured children’s roles, but Honeyville’s Matthew Cunningham landed the role of Fritz the first time he tried out for “The Nutcracker” four years ago. He has danced it in every production since.

Fritz is the roguish younger brother of Clara, the recipient of the “nutcracker” of the title.

“It’s an honor to be doing this four times in a row,” says the vivacious 12-year-old, who attends Adele C. Young Intermediate School in Brigham City.

“I see Fritz as a mischievous little boy who likes to tease his sister a lot,” he explains of his take on the role. “In real life, I tease my sister, too!

“I think his motivation for breaking the nutcracker is jealousy. She’s gotten something that he wanted, so he decides to take it from her.”

This aspect of the role was difficult for him the first year, says mom Cindy, vice principal at Freedom Elementary in Hooper. “He was raised on ‘The Nutcracker’ and could sit there and watch it entranced from the time he was 3,” she says. “The nutcracker itself was so sacred to him that when he realized that he had to break it, he was very upset.”

Realizing that the “breaking” of the nutcracker involves Velcro rather than true breakage allowed him to warm to the role.

Matthew has been taking dance classes since he was 6 years old, beginning at Brigham City’s Starlight Express dance school and moving on to the Ballet West Academy two years ago.

“I’ve loved it since my first class,” says Matthew. “I was a Buffoon in a local production of ‘Nutcracker’ in Brigham City the year before I tried out for Ballet West. I’ve stayed with it because I just love the production. I never get tired of it, and now I really appreciate the opportunity to dance Fritz.”

Matthew says the men in the main company inspire him.”I look at them dancing onstage and just want to be one of them,” he says. “They’re my heroes!”

Snarr says she values Cunningham for qualities both technical and personal.

“He’s a fantastic kid, as well as being a great actor and dancer,” she says. “The kid can spin like a top, and he bounces like a ball when he jumps. He definitely has a career in dance waiting for him if he wants it.”

Matthew says he would like one day to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier because, “It’s a role that has lots of jumping and turning.”

For Matthew, the commitment to classes at the Ballet West Academy and “Nutcracker” rehearsals has involved a 90-minute trip four times a week, something his mother says the family manages with the help of car pools.

“But arts are a big part of our family,” she says, “so we’re glad to put in the time.”

Matthew, the youngest of six children, will be dancing not only Fritz in cast A, which performs in Ogden, but the Mouse Prince in cast B, dancing in Salt Lake City.

His advice to aspiring young dancers who want to try for the children’s roles in the ballet? “Just go out there and have fun,” he says, “and make sure you express your feelings!”


Copyright © 2008 Ogden Publishing Corporation

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