By Bill Lohmann
December 12, 2013
[Richmond, Virginia, USA] – “The Nutcracker” is indisputably a holiday tradition. For the Paivas, it’s also a family tradition. In this year’s Richmond Ballet production, 10-year-old Anthony Paiva is one of the dancers playing the role of Fritz — almost four decades after his father, Terry, performed the role for Richmond audiences.
“It’s awesome,” Anthony said.
“I think he’ll enjoy himself,” his dad said, “and I think it will bring back a lot of memories for me.”
Stoner Winslett’s “The Nutcracker” will run Saturday through Dec. 23 at the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage. The two-hour production will feature the company’s full roster of professionals, as well as 26 trainees and more than 150 students from The School of Richmond Ballet. Two casts share duties for the 13 performances. The Richmond Symphony will perform Peter Tchaikovsky’s score.
In the story, Fritz is the rambunctious boy who jealously breaks his sister Clara’s favorite Christmas gift: a nutcracker. Anthony said wrestling for the nutcracker is probably his favorite part, though he added, “I also like pushing Clara.”
The production includes two Paivas: Anthony and his 14-year-old sister, Audrey, who is making her fifth appearance in the show. This is Anthony’s first year in the production.
In fact, like his son, Terry followed his older sister into the world of ballet. His sister, Jan, danced and frequently appeared in productions of “The Nutcracker,” and as long as he was tagging along to her classes, he recalled with a laugh, his mother, Jackie, apparently thought, “Instead of just sitting there. …”
He enrolled in his first ballet class when he was 4. Then, an even funnier thing happened: He enjoyed it. “I seemed to take to it pretty well,” said Terry, now an architect who said the agility he developed in dance remains with him. “I can’t say it came naturally, but I was able to catch on pretty quickly. “And all of a sudden I guess I discovered, ‘I’m the only boy with all these girls! I could get used to that.’”
Anthony began taking ballet classes when he was 3 and moved to The School of Richmond Ballet at age 5. He grew up watching his sister dance, hearing about his dad and being encouraged by his grandmother, who was a longtime volunteer, board member and registrar for the Richmond Ballet. Jackie Paiva died in early November at age 92, but had been pleased to learn that her grandson had been selected for the role of Fritz and would follow in his father’s footsteps in “The Nutcracker.” “She was very excited,” Terry said.
She also would be excited to know how much Anthony enjoys ballet. “For me, it just keeps getting better and better,” he said, noting that he loves the bright lights that come with performing before an audience, but he even enjoys rehearsals because you’re allowed to “laugh more” than when on stage. “As you learn more steps and it gets more complicated, it gets more fun after that.”
Anthony is a fifth-grader at Richmond’s Mary Munford Elementary, where he is a student of John Bennett, whom he described as “the best teacher ever.” As for reasons, Anthony mentioned firing rockets and learning guitar. He also stays busy playing violin and soccer.
Terry performed in “The Nutcracker” in the days before the Richmond Ballet became a professional company, and he acknowledged that Anthony is dancing in a far higher-budget, more elaborate production. Another difference: Anthony is not subject to nearly as much teasing as he experienced in the 1960s and 1970s as a boy participating in ballet.
There was a lot of name-calling, which he tried to ignore, but one time his middle-school principal had to intervene when a schoolmate became particularly obnoxious. “I believe it was a time of conformity when boys were supposed to do this and girls that,” he said. “So when someone was doing something different, people were more apt to look at it negatively. I like to believe we are moving away from that way of thinking, which hopefully is contributing to the greater tolerance Anthony has experienced.”
Terry danced until he was 16, deciding he wanted to pursue other activities and look ahead to college and the rest of his life. Still, he fondly recalls the friends he made in ballet who “were maybe the most important thing that kept me involved.”
“It was — and I’m sure still is — a ‘family,’ and that feeling of belonging to something was very strong,” he said. “Habits were formed and lessons were learned that helped you later, even if you may not have realized it at the time.”
Anthony said his classmates think it’s “cool” that he’s in “The Nutcracker,” and he has no plans to stop dancing. “I want to be in the (professional) company,” he said matter-of-factly.
Copyright 2013 Richmond Times Dispatch