BETSEY BRUNER, Daily Sun staff
Photographs by Betsy Bruner
Arizona Daily Sun
December 6, 2010
Josiah Cook, a princely performer, is featured in the annual ‘Nutcracker’ treat.
His leaps and splits high in the air awed audiences last Christmas season. The ballet career of Flagstaff’s Josiah Cook is also positioned to leap high through his last three years of high school and beyond, possibly even to New York City to apprentice with a major ballet company.
Audiences will again get a chance to be wowed by Josiah, 14, as he performs Dec. 10 and 11 in three roles during the annual “Nutcracker Ballet” in Ardrey Auditorium: Soldier doll, Russian dancer and, a principal part, the Nutcracker Prince.
Josiah’s eyes are firmly fixed on a career in ballet, an art form he loves. “Mostly, it’s just the thrill of dancing itself, and the audience, having them watch me, brings it out more,” Josiah said. “The adrenaline rush — that helps the energy.”
GROWING INTO ROLES
Josiah, who was born and raised in Flagstaff, is in his seventh year with the NAU Community Music and Dance Academy, a branch of the NAU School of Music.
The academy was established in 1980 and provides training and certification through the Royal Academy of Dance in London.
Andrew Needhammer, choreographer and director of the ballet program at the academy, has been working with Josiah from the beginning, including preparing him for many roles in the “Nutcracker” at NAU.
Josiah has probably added 6 inches to his frame since last year’s “Nutcracker,” Needhammer said, and hits about 100 pounds and 5 feet, 3 inches today.
“We’ve just expanded the parts for him as he’s grown,” said Needhammer, who toured with ABT II, danced with the National Ballet of Canada for seven years and was a principal dancer with Ballet Arizona in Phoenix.
“It’s exciting,” said Needhammer, about working with the young dancer. “When I left Phoenix, I left three very good boys. I regretted having to leave them. All three went on to New York. When I came here, I found Josiah, and he filled that spot in my teaching.”
Needhammer is impressed by the dancer’s work ethic. “He worked as hard then as he does now,” he said. “He was completely dedicated and committed. You can’t teach people that.”
A SENSITIVE PARTNER
Throughout the year, Josiah takes dance classes, alone and with others, for a total of 2 1/2 to 3 hours each week. Meeting this demanding schedule is made easier by the fact that he is home-schooled by both his parents, Dan and Debbie Cook.
He also has five brothers and two sisters, with three of his siblings dancing in this year’s “Nutcracker.”
As show time approaches, practices have intensified, especially since Josiah will be featured in the Snow Pas de Deux, partnered with Wanyi Ng, 16, in the role of the Snow Queen. The two have been practicing hard with Needhammer for the lovely duet, which occurs at the end of the first act.
“The mood is definitely a lot quieter and relaxed, and dancing with a partner, also, it’s new,” Josiah said.
The dance includes a lot of partnered pirouettes, Needhammer said.
“Josiah has become a very sensitive partner,” he added. “He’s very in tune to what she needs as a ballerina.”
RITE OF PASSAGE
Maestra Elizabeth Schulze of FSO will be conducting the “Nutcracker Ballet” in its entirety for the first time. “The music is gorgeous and remarkably descriptive,” Schulze said in an e-mail. “Tchaikovsky is a master storyteller.”
She also said she is excited about working with the young performers, including some, like Josiah, who have moved into principal roles. “I’m looking forward to working with the young dancers and singers,” the conductor said in an e-mail. “For the dancers particularly, the ballet is a rite of passage, as they start out in the mouse army and make their way over the years into the ranks of snowflakes and flowers and perhaps even achieving a solo part.”
To prepare for his dance future, Josiah spent four weeks last summer in Austin, Texas, dancing with the American Ballet Theatre II, a training company which prepares young dancers to enter ABT in New York, as well as other professional ballet companies.
“It was lot of fun; I learned a lot,” he said. “I auditioned in Tucson. There were only two other guys auditioning, but a lot of girls. After I graduate, I’m hoping maybe to join a company.”
“After a few more summer intensives,” Needhammer added.
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