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By Anna Jefferies
Newark Advocate
November 28, 2013

Max and Samantha Berry star as Clara and the Nutcracker prince in The Central Ohio Youth Ballet's Nutcracker (photo by Jessica Phelps) 2013[Newark, Ohio, USA] – When Samantha Berry found out she had been cast as Clara in the Central Ohio Youth Ballet’s 2013 production of “The Nutcracker” she knew she was taking on a big challenge.

But she felt reassured, knowing the dancer portraying the Nutcracker Prince would always have her back. After all, she’s known him her whole life. Samantha, 12, of Johnstown will share the stage with her older brother Max Berry, 14, when “The Nutcracker” opens Friday , at The Midland Theatre.

About 43 dancers from studios in seven counties have been practicing since September to bring the ballet to The Midland stage. Telling the classic story of “The Nutcracker” has been a tradition for the COYB since 1994, said Robert Cole, artistic director. “It’s a great way to start the holiday season off,” Cole said. “It’s always exciting because it’s never the same twice.”

Every year, Cole adds new choreography to the ballet that emphasizes the strengths of the featured dancers. He worked with Max, Samantha and Madison Weisend, a Newark dancer who also plays Clara, to come up with the right steps. “We color it differently because they have different personalities,” he said. “We do what would feel natural for them.”

Because the young dancers are students at other studios, the COYB can only rehearse on weekends. It’s up to the cast to practice their parts at home. “It takes a tremendous amount of self discipline and responsibility. People expect a professional performance,” Cole said. “A lot of people can’t believe it’s only a youth company.”

All of the dancers this year have shown incredible maturity and commitment to their roles, said Erika Twining, assistant artistic director. “I think a lot of the dancers have had the opportunity to step into roles that are more advanced this year,” she said. “Watching the kids we’ve been working with step up to a new level is really exciting.”

Taking on the roles of Clara and the Prince were major challenges for Samantha and Max. Working together as a team really helped, Samantha said. “With another person it would be more difficult,” she said. “I can look at him and truly smile.”

The siblings have acted in several plays together, so they aren’t afraid to offer constructive feedback, Twining said. “They already watched each other fail and succeed so they aren’t afraid to make mistakes with each other,” she said. “They just keep working. They work really hard together.”

Samantha and Max have spent a lot of time practicing at home and talking about their characters in the car on the way to practice.

Samantha said she’s been working hard to show Clara’s transition from a shy person to someone more outgoing. “Once she meets the Nutcracker, she feels like she can do anything,” she said. “Since I came (to COYB) I’ve been getting more outgoing. So that’s what I’m trying to put into Clara because that’s actually (what’s happened to) me.”

She and her brother aren’t the only Berrys on stage during the ballet. Their parents are performing in the party scene. Getting ready for the show has been fun for the whole family

“I honestly think lately (Samantha and I) have become closer as sibling then we’ve been in the past. It’s just a really cool thing.” Max said. “I’ve always loved (performing) with family.”

Copyright © 2013 Newark Advocate

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