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By Jody Covington • Special to Carson Times 

December 5, 2008


Fresh from nearly landing on Broadway and being pitted against a world champion Irish dancer, 11-year-old Ryan Vettel readies to perform this holiday season as “the Nutcracker Prince” in “Peanutcracker — The Story in a Nut Shell.”

Vettel, a Carson City sixth grader at the private St. Teresa School, knows well the condensed story based on Peter Tchaikovsky’s original ballet “The Nutcracker.” He has performed in the Sierra Nevada Ballet’s productions for six years, honing the part of The Brat, Fritz from 2004 to 2006.

The role likely tested his acting chops because he is described as anything but a brat by those around him. Starting at the age of 3, Vettel’s parents, John and Jessie, discovered their son‘s talent for tap.

“He was tapping around the furniture before he could walk,” said mom, Jessie Vettel. His natural ability, passion, dedication and focus allowed him to expand his repertoire to include violin, singing, acting, musical theater and various dance genres such as modern, hip hop, jazz and lyrical, according to his parents and teachers. His experience would be impressive for someone three times his age.

Experience impressive

In 2007, he played The Poet Boy in Sierra Nevada Ballet Company’s “The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore.” He’s played violin on stage and landed roles in many productions by various companies including Western Nevada Musical Theater Company, Nevada Civic Light Opera and Proscenium Players Musical Theater Company.

He has won “Best In Age” categories and other awards for his tap solos at dance competitions including Jump!, Dance USA Regional Dance Competitions and Dance USA National Competition. He also danced the role of the Little Hunter in Sierra Nevada Ballet’s production of “Peter and the Wolf” this past summer.

Only recently, he was one of 15 boys who received a call back from a national pool of about 1,500 to compete for a role in the Broadway play, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.” The part likely went to boys about three years older than Ryan, his parents said.

Vettel spends at least nine hours a week practicing and preparing in classes at Western Nevada Performing Arts Center in south Carson City. The amount of time increases depending on dance competitions, plays and performances. Extremely busy now, he spends about 20 hours a week.

“He likes a challenge,” said Rosine Bena, Vettel’s long-time teacher and artistic director for Sierra Nevada Ballet.

Exceptional focus

What accounts for Vettel‘s success: He is exceptionally focused for someone his age, Bena said.

Gina Davis, owner and director of Western Nevada Performing Arts Center, said Vettel is the most advanced tap student even at his young age that she has ever seen. Nationally, she said, he is right up there with the top.

But that’s not all.

“He’s a nice kid, a good actor. He has a beautiful voice. If people didn‘t know about (his acting and dance), they would think he was just another normal kid. He is a good-hearted child,” said Davis, who wouldn’t be surprised to see Vettel become her fourth student to make it to Broadway some day.

On his resume, his skills are listed as, “unusually skilled tap and ballet dancer (in advanced classes), great ear for music, excellent at memorization, superb reading skills, highly focused, understands character well, quickly masters accents, excellent voice.”

Then there’s the fact that he is an A student and extremely complimentary of his fellow dancers and cast members. Yes, he says, his passion is dance, but he also likes the camaraderie and putting a smile on audience members’ faces.

Camaraderie is key

“I’ve met a lot of friends there (at WNPAC) and they keep me company when I’m down or something,” said Vettel, speaking of the other dancers his age who are mostly girls. “We talk a lot and when there is absolutely nothing to do, we find something to do.”

Davis said the advanced class Vettel attends is by far the most talented group of students she has worked with in her career. Each, she says, helps advance the others. “None of them want to be left behind,” Davis said of the students.

Pushed for anything negative, Vettel could only say that sometimes the technical part of dance and balancing school work with the many hours at the studio can be a challenge.

But when it comes down to it, he said, “There’s nothing that I don’t like.” Even being teased as “ballerina boy,” doesn’t dampen his spirits. Not too long ago, a group of boys picked on Vettel until they watched him perform in the school’s talent show. Afterwards, they apologized for being mean, he said.

Vettel said perseverance is the key and “the core of what you do.” “You can’t let anyone bring you down,” said the 85-pound, 4-feet-11-inch boy.


Copyright ©2008 Reno Gazette-Journal

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