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Young Voorhees dancer lands a dream role in region’s premiere ‘Nutcracker’


Photographs by Chris LaChall
December 13, 2009


For young boys studying ballet there is no bigger part in the dance world than that of the Prince in “The Nutcracker.’ It’s been part of the ballet tradition for generations around the globe.

Now, 11-year-old Darius Black of Voorhees, has joined that special dance fraternity. He’s starring as the Prince in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of “George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker,’ ” being performed through Dec. 31 at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music.

“It’s fun. It’s hard though. There are lots of things to remember. You have to write some of the stuff down so you can remember it all,” Darius said.

Certainly, the demands of the role are much greater for the Hamilton Elementary School fifth grader than when his role last year when he was just another boy in the party scene. “With the prince, you have to practice it at home, just practice a lot because it has to be right,” he said.

“The Nutcracker” tells the story of a young girl, Marie, who receives a toy nutcracker from her godfather during the family’s Christmas party. The godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, is accompanied to the party by his nephew. During the party, the nutcracker is broken. Later, Marie dreams that the nutcracker grows to become life-sized and leads a battle against a band of giant mice.

After slaying the Mouse King, the nutcracker is revealed to be a prince. The Nutcracker Prince and Marie then take a journey, first to a Kingdom of Snow and then to a Kingdom of Sweets.

Darius is actually one of three boys dancing the role of the Nutcracker Prince in this year’s production by Pennsylvania Ballet. Usually, there are only two boys chosen to share the role of the Nutcracker Prince. But Pennsylvania Ballet’s ballet master, Jeff Gribler, said he decided to split this season’s 24 performances of “The Nutcracker” among three boys instead of the usual two. “The role requires a certain level of maturity and really, Darius is just so handsome. He’s got the perfect look for it. He’s been one of my best boys,” said Gribler, who worked with Darius last year. “He’s got such great carriage. I just think he’s wonderful.”

Indeed, Darius does look to the manor born as he makes his way around the rehearsal studio at the Pennsylvania Ballet’s headquarters in Philadelphia. The other boys in the party scene look cute. Darius, all solemnity and grace, is the personification of nobility as he enters a scene, head held high and later, solemnly shakes the hand of the girl dancing the role of Marie at a recent rehearsal.

Gribler said he wanted to give Darius a chance to dance the role of the Nutcracker Prince before he outgrew the part. “He might have been too tall next year. That happens sometimes where you have someone who you know is going to be really good but you wait and then all of a sudden it’s too late,” Gribler said. “I just said, “he deserves a shot at this now.’ so we’ll do it with three instead of two Princes.”




Darius will perform seven performances as the Prince. He’ll perform in nine other performances as a boy in the party scene.

For Darius and his family, the news that he had earned the big role caught them by surprise, they said. “I was shocked. I knew there were two princes already. But they told me to stay at the audition and everybody else left and then they took me aside and told me. I was amazed,” Darius said, smiling at the memory of learning his good news.

His parents were just as surprised. “I got a text from him. “Guess what? I’m the Prince.’ I couldn’t believe it,” recalled David Black. Mom Danielle was in such disbelief she took her husband’s phone to read the text herself.

Said David Black, “We were both quite happy but surprised. We’re very proud of him, very proud.”


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