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Anthony Paiva, age 10, is playing Fritz in the Richmond Ballet's Nutcracker this year, father Terry Paiva played Fritz when he was young (photo by Alexa Welch Edlund) 2013

By Bill Lohmann
Richmond Times-Dispatch
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

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Jennah and Jordan Motter have been in three productions together, and now they gear up for a fourth.

Nutcracker Prince Nathaniel Tyson battles Mouse King Jordan Motter during rehearsal for Midstate Ballet Nutcracker (photo by Jeff Lautenberger) 2013

By Sarah Fleischman
The Hanover Evening Sun
December 9, 2013

[Hanover, Pennsylvania, USA] – Born two years apart, Jennah and Jordan Motter share a lot — the same circle of friends, the same musical tastes. But now they’re sharing the same hobby, too.

Jennah is the dancer in their Hanover family, and has been for 13 years. Last year, she volunteered her brother Jordan to be in the Midstate Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” After all, they were in desperate need of a male dancer.

As a gymnast, dancing wasn’t too far out of 20-year-old Jordan’s comfort zone. After playing the Nutcracker Prince last year, he is back to play the villain, the Mouse King.

In the last few years, the brother and sister have shared a lot, but with school and a multitude of other activities, they didn’t get to see much of each other. Being in the ballet together has strengthened their bond, they said.

Jennah Motter, right, helps brother Jordan out of his Mouse King after rehearsing for Midstate Ballet's Nutracker (photo by Jeff Lautenberger) 2013

This is Jennah and Jordan’s fourth ballet together. They’re the only two people in the ballet from Hanover, they said. But the distance is what keeps the two of them close. Early on, before 18-year-old Jennah had her driver’s license, the two spent the hour-long trip from Hanover to the Greater York Center for Dance Education in York talking in the car together.

“We’ve only become close through this studio,” Jennah said. “Rehearsals are our one chance to see each other.”

The two don’t appear on stage together, with Jordan only in one scene as the Mouse King and Jennah in several as a background dancer. The siblings are in back-to-back scenes, which means they attend many rehearsals together.

“I love that he can do this with me,” Jennah said.

This year could be their last living and dancing together, as Jordan plans to attend Temple University next fall for a degree in business and Jennah plans to go to college in a major city next year.

Four years ago, Jennah decided to leave her dance studio in Hanover in favor of the Midstate Ballet, which she said offers her a broader dance education. Between classes and practices, she is at the York studio almost every day. Plus, she is cyber schooled, teaches swim classes at the Hanover YMCA and is active in her youth group at Jesus Messiah Evangelical Free Church in Hanover. Her brother’s schedule is similar: he takes classes at Harrisburg Area Community College and teaches gymnastics at the Hanover YMCA.

Jennah and Jordan said they love being able to interact with children through dance and teaching classes at the YMCA. As she makes future plans, Jennah is considering a career in teaching, especially kindergarten.

And the children in “The Nutcracker” feel the same way about the Motters. Jordan appears in one scene with several dozen younger dancers, so he spends plenty of time with younger admirers. After one practice, Jordan came home with a stack of drawings done by the younger dancers.

“I love the people here,” Jordan said.

At Saturday’s rehearsal at the Greater York Center for Dance Education studio, Jordan and the cast practiced the battle scene where the Mouse King is defeated by the Nutcracker Prince.

Jordan, dressed in a mouse headpiece, fell to the ground when the Nutcracker Prince delivered the fatal blow with his sword. He curled up on his back as the young dancers dressed as mice pulled him offstage.

Jordan’s scene, he is always defeated by the Nutcracker Prince. But before practicing it, each time, he jokes with his young mouse army.

“I tell them every time we’re going to win,” he said, laughing.

Copyright © 2014 The Hanover Evening Sun

By Allison Geyer
LaCrosse Tribune
December 8, 2013

Katherine Burelbach plays Maria and John Divney plays the Nutcracker in La Crosse Dance Centre’s Nutcracker (photo by Rory O'Driscoll) 2013[La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA] – John Divney was the first boy cast in the La Crosse Dance Centre’s “Nutcracker Ballet” when he made his debut at age 8. Now, the Aquinas senior will be the first high school student to play the production’s title role — a decade after declaring to his family that “someday, (he) wanted to be that Nutcracker Prince.”

“I haven’t really had time to think about how much responsibility it is,” said Divney, who is very much in demand this season. At one point, he was juggling roles in his high school musical, the La Crosse Symphony’s Viennese Christmas concert and Dancing with the La Crosse Stars. “I’m sure somebody along the lines would have done it, but it’s cool that it got to be me,” he said.

In past La Crosse Dance Centre’s “Nutcracker” productions, girls have danced traditionally male roles or dancers from Viterbo University or professional companies have danced the male leads, said artistic director Nikki Balsamo.“(Divney) is kind of a pioneer in a lot of ways, especially being in a smaller city,” Balsamo said. “He’s a great role model for the younger boys.

Divney said his favorite part of the role is dancing with his partner, Katherine Burelbach, who will play the part of Maria for the second year in a row.

Fresh from a summer in New York City studying at the prestigious Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet, Burelbach is excited to have a second chance at the role and hopes to elevate her dancing to a new level. “I’m picking up right where I left off last year,” Burelbach said. “It’s like one huge journey.”

One of 60 dancers selected for the elite pre-professional program, Burelbach picked up pointers for the role from Gelsey Kirkland herself, who was a prima ballerina with the New York City Ballet in the 1970s and 1980s and was famous for dancing the same role in the 1977 televised version of “The Nutcracker.”

“This year, I’m going to try in the choreography to tell the story in every move and every detail,” Burelbach said. “That’s something that adds a lot of magic, and it’s something that added magic to Gelsey Kirkland’s dancing.”

In addition to the Nutcracker Prince and Maria, the ballet is full of other challenging roles for the dancers. Ronnie Rathgaber, a sophomore at Central High School, studied Youtube videos and worked with her dance teacher to perfect the powerful role of the Sugarplum Fairy. “She’s very regal and proud and caring,” said Rathgaber. “Sometimes I forget that I’m 15 years old.”

Dancing in “The Nutcracker” is a tradition for Rathgaber and many of the other 90 cast members performing next weekend. With auditions in June and rehearsals beginning in mid-August, it’s a big commitment, but it’s a rewarding experience from start to finish.

“We’re all one big family,” she said. “It’s a great way to spend the holidays.”

© Copyright 2014, La Crosse Tribune

Twin ballet dancers Andrew (left) and Alexander Pierides take to the stage 2013

By Rachael Murray
The Toowoomba Chronicle
December 7, 2013

[Queensland, Australia] – The Highfields boys [Andew and Alexander Pierides] have been selected to perform with the Queensland Ballet Company’s season of The Nutcracker. Like other nine-year-olds, Alexander said he and his brother were happy to have a few days off school, despite intensive rehearsals since September.

For the first time they were not the only boys in the class.

They started ballet at the age of four and were taught by their mother Melissa Pierides at her dance academy in Highfields. “It’s been an excellent year for the boys with lots of achievements,” Ms Pierides said.

They have also been accepted into the Australian Ballet School’s Interstate Training Program for 2014.

The Nutcracker runs until December 21 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane.

© 2013 Toowoomba Newspapers Pty Ltd

By Michael Crabb
The Toronto Star
December 6, 2013

Skylar Campbell, a former surfer boy turned ballet dancer, is dancing the prince in the National Ballet of Canada's Nutcracker (photo by David Cooper) 2013[Toronto, Ontario, Canada] – It’s quite the jump from horse’s ass to Nutcracker prince, but that’s what National Ballet second soloist Skylar Campbell has accomplished as the company rolls out James Kudelka’s evergreen version of the Tchaikovsky classic for its holiday run.

Until now, Campbell was relegated to the rear end of a life-size stage horse whose dancing antics are a highlight of this Nutcracker’s opening party scene. Now vaulting the ranks into a principal role — originally played by none other than beloved former star Rex Harrington — Campbell will make his debut Dec. 15 in the meaty lead male role.

“It’s a huge opportunity and really quite unexpected,” says Campbell, as he recalls the discomfort of dancing inside that two-man horse. The horse costume is a bit like a concertina. To get it right you’ve got to maintain the tension. Meanwhile, it’s like a heat chamber in there. You sweat so much.”

This season, instead, Campbell will rub the horse’s neck in his Act I role as Peter, a humble stable boy, in the huge barn Santo Loquasto designed for the lively party scene. Even so, company artistic director Karen Kain says Campbell will still be sweating. “Santo’s Nutcracker costumes are absolutely wonderful to look at, but they can be quite heavy to wear. I always tell our Peters to drink lots of water any chance they have.” The problem is that, apart from one intermission, Peter doesn’t get many watering opportunities. He’s the central character throughout the ballet and hardly ever offstage. “It’s very demanding in terms of stamina, from beginning to end,” Kain says.

From stable boy, Peter transforms into a dancing Nutcracker soldier-doll. Then, once an army of rats and other assorted beasties has been defeated in the spectacular battle scene, he becomes the elegant Nutcracker prince who falls in love with Act II’s Sugar Plum Fairy. Campbell’s Fairy will be principal ballerina Jillian Vanstone.

“I think my big challenge will be pacing myself,” says Campbell, who’s had a relatively short rehearsal period to learn a role that includes a lot of acting and detailed stage business. “You need to give a hundred per cent energy right from the outset; but then there’s so much more to come.”

You might ask, given the National Ballet’s range of male talent, how Campbell, 22, only in his third season with the company and his first as a junior soloist, has earned such a conspicuous role.  Kain explains that it requires a particular kind of dancer. “Apart from classical technique and strong partnering ability, it needs a certain sweetness of character. And James Kudelka has been impressed by Skylar’s dancing.”

So have other renowned choreographers. When John Neumeier restaged his Nijinsky for the National Ballet last winter he chose only two men to dance the title lead, company star principal Guillaume Côté and Campbell, still then in the corps.

In his very first season, Kain cast Campbell in Sleeping Beauty’s technically dazzling Bluebird pas de deux. That same season he was cast as Alain, a central role in Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée.

All this for a skateboarding, surfing, drum-playing California boy from Laguna Beach, Orange County, who didn’t commit to ballet until he was 15 and never had the systematic training that’s considered a sine qua non for success. That Campbell didn’t take to ballet sooner is surprising, given that his mother, Kelly Uygan, and stepfather, Viktor Uygan, were both ballet dancers.

In 1996, when he was just 5 and his mother a member of Hartford Ballet in Connecticut, Campbell was cast by Canadian choreographer Jean Grand-Maître in a cameo role in his Ancient Airs.  But, as Campbell’s mother explains, she didn’t try to push him, especially when his interests seemed more inclined toward music. However, when Kelly and her Turkish-born husband resettled in Orange County they steered Campbell to a local studio where he learned hip-hop and jazz dance.

Campbell’s epiphany came during spring break 2005 when he accompanied his parents to New York’s top-level dance contest, the Youth America Grand Prix. Campbell was so impressed watching a scholarship level boy’s class that he calmly told his mother, “I’ve decided I’m going to be a ballet dancer.”

After initial classes with Viktor Uygan, Campbell transferred to the studio of Russian-trained dancers Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky. His progress was rapid enough for choreographer David Allan, then a University of California, Irvine professor, to cast Campbell as the young prince in his Ballet Pacifica Nutcracker production. “It was a real dancing role and Skylar never missed a single double saut de basque through 21 performances,” says Allan, referring to an athletic turning step.

Allan, a former National Ballet soloist, became an important mentor and Campbell’s occasional teacher/coach, as did another former National Ballet star Stephen Legate. These connections were among several factors that in 2009 decided Campbell to become a National Ballet apprentice after placing among the top 10 male finalists in that year’s prestigious Prix de Lausanne. He spent two years in the National Ballet’s YOU Dance apprentice program — “I needed that extra time to catch up” — before becoming a full company member in 2011.

“Those of us who’ve been able to help Skylar along the way are all so proud of him,” says Allan. “It’s extraordinary how far he’s catapulted himself in little more than seven years.”

Says the easygoing, quiet-mannered Campbell, with his curly red hair and a face straight out of a Botticelli painting, “It’s certainly been quite the journey.”

The Nutcracker is at the Four Seasons for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W., Dec. 14 to Jan 4. Go to www.national.ballet.ca or call 416-345-9595 or 1-866-345-9595 for tickets.

© Copyright 2013 Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd.

By Kathleen Pierce
Bangor Daily News
December 5, 2013

This year's production of Maine State Ballet's Nutcracker features over 20 male dancers - more than ever before (facebook) 2013[Bangor, Maine, USA] – In the basement of Merrill Auditorium there is a man cave.

Waiting for their turn to leap across the stage in this year’s performance of “The Nutcracker,” a group of males age 4 to well over 40 gather to play cards, eat popcorn and jockey for space in the dressing room. A few years ago, it wasn’t so crowded.

In the ’70s, “we would be lucky to have a Nutcracker prince,” said Linda Miele, artistic director for Maine State Ballet, who has staged the Christmas classic in Portland for 37 years. “We would have to hire from away.”

Blame it on “Billy Elliot” or “Dancing with the Stars,” but in the past few years boys are plieing their way across stages in record numbers. Ballet, a graceful sport that calls to mind tights and tutus, is no longer a girls’ club.

At the Maine State Ballet School for the Performing Arts in Falmouth, boys are taking to the discipline in droves. This year the number of males dancing in “The Nutcracker” has surged. There are 30 compared with 12 last year and a mere eight in the cast in 2011, said Miele. “It’s great,” said the former New York City Ballet dancer, who bought the company in 1974 when she moved to Maine. “[Back then] it would be surprising to have a boy try out.”

With more opportunity, more roles and role models, that’s changing.“These guys are pretty confident in themselves. It helps that there are more of them,” said Miele.

The Maine State Ballet has relied on local dancer Glenn Davis for male dance parts for 20 years. This year, he shares the Nutcracker Prince with 17-year-old Maiki Saito of Scarborough.

To Miele, who danced under famed choreographer George Balanchine, this is significant.“This $200,000 production is not riding on one man’s shoulders,” she said.

Saito, an athletic-looking youth with dark spiky hair, started ballet at age 7. “[Ballet] is a good workout, I love the people and it’s a stress reliever,” he said.

Instead of being teased for being a ballet boy, on the contrary, his classmates are impressed and proud of his stagecraft. “A lot of people congratulate me or support me,” said Saito. “It’s a lot of fun — gets the blood flowing.”

Boys warm up at the barre at the Maine State Ballet School (photo by Kathleen Pierce) 2103Nick Anderson, 14, of Scarborough has been limbering up at the barre since he was 4. The toy soldier and Mouse King in this year’s “Nutcracker” was introduced to ballet like a lot of boys, through his sister. “I came home and said, “I could do that,” Anderson said of seeing his sister perform. His parents signed him up for ballet classes right away.

Ballet, which requires coordination and focus, also helps Anderson with other sports such as soccer. But, he says, it’s less forgiving. “There is more precision in ballet than there is in soccer,” said Anderson. “You have to be spot on every time and with soccer sometimes you hit a pass sometimes you don’t. It’s really about nailing everything every time in ballet.”

And when the pressures of school and being a teenager start to mount, ballet provides something else — an escape. “I can come here after school and pretty much forget about everything. When you are dancing you just focus on technique,” said Anderson during a recent rehearsal.

As sports become less gender-specific and more about ability, the walls are coming down. Supportive parents, including Brian Rahill of Orono, shrug off askance looks when telling people their son takes ballet. “It’s important as a parent to allow boys to express themselves in lots of ways,” Rahill said.

His son Ben Allan-Rahill, 13, will perform in Robinson Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” for the fourth time this year. The traveling production, with shows in New Hampshire and across the state, settles into the University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts Dec. 21 and 22.

Allan-Rahill’s schedule overlaps with ice hockey and that has posed problems socially. “People have a vision of what boys should be doing. When you are a tough guy hockey player and have to say you will miss games because you have to dance in ‘The Nutcracker,’ … he’s learned that this is who he is and what he is doing,” said Rahill.

Sticking to ballet is the biggest challenge for boys. Blowback from peers starts to set in in middle school. The typical trajectory is for boys to start tap dancing when they are young and “we lose them when they are in high school to sports,” said Miele.

That’s why role models such as Davis are paramount.“The more we get out in the community the more we perform and boys see it as a viable option” and the more they stay, he said.

Despite the obvious upsides, donning flats and tights is not always easy. No matter how rock solid your confidence is. “Boys come to a line they have to cross. Are they going to give in to people making fun of them or quit? For some it’s harder than others,” said Davis, who coaches young dancers on the topic of peer pressure. “You have to take a stand at some point and say, ‘do I care more about what people think of me or do I care more about what I’m doing?’”

Parents say that choice is getting easier. “I don’t think there is such a thing as girls’ sports and boys’ sports,” said Rahill. “Society has gotten more open, accepting and understanding. People are recognizing you can be masculine in a lot of different ways.”

Copyright 2013 Bangor Daily News

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By Terry Trucco
Playbill Arts
December 4, 2013

The Children of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.

Maximilian Brooking Landegger as the Nutcracker Prince and Rommie Tomasini as Marie (photo by Paul Kohnik) 2013[New York, New York, USA] – It’s impossible to imagine George Balanchine’s The NutcrackerTM without children—and not just the ones in the audience. Young dancers between the ages of 8 and 13 help propel the plot in the ballet’s first act, danced in the proper living room of the Stahlbaum family, home to Marie and her impish brother Fritz. Children are again a focal point in the second act as Candy Canes, Marzipan, Hot Chocolate and other whimsical inhabitants of the Land of Sweets frolic for the enjoyment of Marie and the Prince. Young dancers appear in many of Balanchine’s ballets, though none as prominently as in The Nutcracker. Balanchine, after all, was himself a child dancer, performing with the Imperial Russian Ballet. Each fall, two alternating casts of youthful dancers are plucked from the ranks of the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of New York City Ballet, to appear in the Company’s holiday jewel.

What’s it like to dance in front of nearly 3,000 people a night while you’re still in elementary school? We talked with six young performers about their experiences, on and offstage.

Rommie Tomasini, Marie

At age 10, Rommie Tomasini, a soft-spoken Manhattan fifth grader, is already a four-year Nutcracker veteran with a wealth of onstage memories. After a season as the Bunny in the first act battle scene— “I was very scared of the Mouse King,” she recalls with a smile— and another as a Polichinelle—“It’s dark and kind of hard to see under Mother Ginger’s skirt”—she danced last season as Marie, a role she’s eager to repeat this year. “My favorite part is spinning on the bed. Your eyes are closed, and you’re getting dizzy, but it’s actually fun.” Rommie started ballet when she was 6, following, almost literally, in the footsteps of her older sister. “While I’m in ballet class I clear my mind and only focus on one thing and that’s to dance,” she says. When she’s not dancing or doing homework, Rommie enjoys reading books about ballet, eating crepes with Nutella and going to museums. “This year our class gets to go the American Museum of Natural History and sleep under the whale, so I’m looking forward to that,” she says.

Maximilian Brooking Landegger, The Prince

Maximilian Brooking Landegger, who’s known as Max, was 5 years old when a friend cancelled a play date and changed his life. “My younger sister was going to her ballet class and I thought, ‘Oh no, I have to go watch ballet,’” he recalls. “But when I saw it I realized I wanted to take lessons.” He auditioned for SAB as soon as he turned 6 and never looked back. “Ballet class is completely mind blowing,” says Max, who performed recently as Oliver in Christopher Wheeldon’s Carnival of the Animals at NYCB. “I forget about grades or problems that I’m having. And being so energetic and trying my hardest makes me feel good.” This year marks the fifth Nutcracker and second stint as the Prince for the 11-year-old Manhattan fifth grader whose favorite school subjects are English and history. In his spare time Max enjoys going to the ballet and counts Balanchine’s Serenade and Tarantella among his favorites. “I like to jump. So it’s inspirational to watch the dancers jump in Tarantella and think, wow, I hope I can do that one day,” he says. As for his sister, she still dances, and Max looks forward to sitting onstage in the second act and watching her as a Polichinelle.

Philip Henry Duclos, Fritz

“I love this role,” declares Philip Henry Duclos, an angelic-looking 10-year-old known as Henry, who is in his second year as the devilish Fritz. “ It’s really fun to be that kid who’s naughty. It’s fun to act it out.” Though Henry savors almost every Fritz moment, his favorite comes at the very beginning, when he shares an empty stage with Marie. “You’re lying down asleep in Marie’s lap, you peek out, and you see this huge audience with thousands of people. It’s amazing,” he says. A three-year Nutcracker veteran and fourth-year student at SAB, Henry relishes taking ballet class taught by former NYCB dancers Jock Soto and Arch Higgins and particularly enjoys doing pirouettes. “When I see the older dancers turning onstage I love how the turns look, and they’re a lot of fun to do in class,” he says. A Manhattan fifth grader, Henry calls ballet his “priority.” But he also plays the violin, likes to draw and ice skate and enjoys “eating breakfast for dinner, things like French toast, pancakes and eggs.”

Claire Simon, Marie

Like many young girls, Claire Simon, an 11-year-old Manhattan sixth grader, dreamed of what it would be like to be Marie in The Nutcracker. “I always wanted to go up in the sleigh with the reindeer,” she says. After dancing in the party scene for two years, she got her wish this year. Her selection came as a surprise. “At the casting a boy from a higher level at SAB came to get me, and I thought I was in trouble,” she recalls. Instead Dena Abergel, NYCB Children’s Ballet Mistress, greeted her with the good news. Claire spends her days practicing her steps at every opportunity, “even on the subway,” she says. “I can never sit still, and ballet is a disciplined way of moving.” Though she auditioned successfully for SAB when she was 6, she left the following year when her family traveled the world for seven months. “My favorite countries were Greece and Cambodia,” she says. When she isn’t dancing or studying, Claire likes to swim, ice skate and read historical fiction, “especially about World War II.” She also helps look after the family dog, Clovis. “I have to take her out, which I don’t like. But I like her anyway,” she says.

Lleyton Ho, The Prince

Lleyton Ho (Nutcracker prince), Robert La Fosse (Herr Drosselmeier), and Claire Abraham (Marie) in Balanchine’s “Nutcracker,” at New York City Ballet (photo by Paul Kolnik) 2013Lleyton Ho recalls his excitement the first year he appeared in The Nutcracker in the party scene. “When I was little, the only thing I’d really look forward to at Christmas was watching The Nutcracker on television. The Nutcracker was always a big part of my life,” he says. Last year Lleyton, a 13-year-old seventh grader from Scarsdale, graduated to the role of the Prince, a part he’ll repeat this year. “It’s really special seeing all the professional dancers up close and watching them perform,” he says. Lleyton came to ballet at the age of 8 at the suggestion of his gymnastics instructor. “I discovered I loved ballet more than gymnastics and decided to keep doing it. There’s discipline in ballet but also freedom, which is an unusual combination,” he says. Commuting into Manhattan for ballet means hours in the family car, but Lleyton uses “car time,” as he calls it, to plow through his homework “I’m lucky I don’t get motion sickness,” he says. When summer rolls around, he enjoys sailing, swimming and reading, especially books about soldiers and espionage. “A lot of books I don’t think I’ll like at first I end up liking a lot,” he says.

F. Henry Berlin, Fritz

When F. Henry Berlin was 8 years old, his ice skating instructor suggested he study ballet to improve his flexibility. It turns out ice skating was considerably more helpful to ballet than the other way around, especially with balance. “You’re out there holding your leg up to your ear without a barre, and that’s kind of what we do on ice,” says Henry, an 11-year-old Manhattan fifth grader. “Besides, there’s really no bad part about dancing. If you fall you’re not going to slide and hit the wall.” After a year as a Nutcracker party boy, Henry danced Fritz for the first time last year, a role he’s excited to return to. “The fact that you have a name is nice. People know Fritz. But the great thing about playing Fritz is you get to act really, really devilishly without getting in trouble. That’s fun.” Though he calls ballet his “main focus,” Henry also plays soccer and the violin, takes art classes and likes “the kind of books I can’t stop reading,” like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series. “I’ve got The Goblet of Fire on my Kindle. It’s my number one obsession now,” he says.

Copyright © 2013 Playbill, Inc

By Ellen Dunkel
The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 02, 2013

School of Pennsylvania Ballet students Jane Cohen and Aidan Duffy rehearse the Nutcracker 2013 (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)b[Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA] – At 10, Jane Cohen of Moorestown is already a veteran of Pennsylvania Ballet’s George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. In the last two seasons she’s been the bunny, an angel, and a grandchild.

This year’s goal was to be a girl in the party scene and a Polichinelle – one of the children who emerge from Mother Ginger’s immense skirt. Instead, she was stunned to find herself cast as Marie, the female child lead. Jane had dreamed one day of landing the coveted role, but “I thought maybe two years from now.”

Nor was she the only one so happily surprised. “I was hoping I’d get Fritz,” the part of Marie’s little brother, said Aidan Duffy, 9, of Philadelphia. “I screamed when I was Fritz!” Then he was doubly shocked to learn that he also had been cast as the Prince, the male child lead, in alternating performances.

For the first time in more than 20 years, Pennsylvania Ballet opted against auditioning children from across the region for its Nutcracker; instead, the field was narrowed to students at its own School of Pennsylvania Ballet, which reopened in 2012 after a 22-year hiatus – a feat they hadn’t expected to swing after just one year. But, said Arantxa Ochoa, who retired as a company principal in 2012 to become lead teacher at the school, “The kids are ready.”

Ochoa taught the children bits of choreography before parts were assigned. To make things work size-wise, the three girls and two boys chosen to dance Marie and the Prince are new to the roles, and younger than those usually selected.

Along with Jane, Abbie Rorke, 11, of Philadelphia, and Grace Arrison, 10, of Malvern, will dance Marie. Aidan and Josh Selvin, 11, of Bala Cynwyd, will alternate in the roles of the Prince and Fritz. Tino Karakousis, 7, of Philadelphia, will also dance Fritz.

In all, 93 of the school’s 145 students have been cast in the ballet, including some advanced students who are filling corps de ballet parts previously given to freelance dancers.

Of the children not cast, most are too tall. A third Prince was chosen, a boy who danced the role last year, but when he tried on the costume he found he had outgrown it. Another potential Prince, Jonathan Block, instead is performing in the Walnut Street Theatre’s current production of Elf.

For months, Nutcracker was all the talk around the barre at the ballet’s school. “A lot of people told me I’d be Marie, but I didn’t believe them,” Abbie said. She was even more skeptical when summer passed with no word from the company – children dancing Marie and the Prince traditionally get early notice so they have more time to prepare. “They didn’t tell us anything,” Grace agreed, though it was worth the wait: “I cried when I was Marie.”

But casting only children from the School of Pennsylvania Ballet changed the game, Ochoa said. In the past, they worked with children from all over the region and thus around a variety of schedules. Weekends were the only time kids could rehearse. Now, she said, “During the week we can rehearse. We finish class and then we have rehearsal.”

Still, it isn’t easy. Some days the students attend their academic schools, then have up to 21/2 hours of ballet class, followed by another two hours of rehearsal before they can go home. It’s enough to make a child act like a child.

Jane Cohen, 10, center, breaks into nervous giggles after Aidan Duffy, 9, kissed her hand during rehearsals for Pennsylvania Ballet's The Nutcracker (photo by Michael Bryant) 2013

“He gives you a little kiss,” Ochoa instructed at a recent rehearsal for the five leads. Jane giggled as Aidan bent over to plant one on her outstretched hand. “You cannot laugh,” Ochoa gently scolded. “Are you going to laugh in the show?”

Josh – whose great-grandmother, Seraphina Taylor Cohen, danced with the Atlanta Ballet – observed helpfully that “the Prince and Marie used to be older, so the Prince and Marie used to be taller and more mature.”

True, says Ochoa, but she feels that’s part of her pint-size cast’s charm. “They have an innocence that goes with Marie,” she said “They are little girls, they don’t have to pretend. You’re just looking at the story. It’s not about having the perfect technique. It’s about being a young girl, Christmas Eve, being excited. They are innocent and pure.”

The young dancers have bars to clear. “I think the Prince and Fritz is hard,” Aidan said of his combo casting. “We’re told to be very big” for the Prince, Josh added, “and then very evil” – or at least bratty – for Fritz.

Still, they are up for the challenge. “It’s great for them,” Ochoa said. “They show a completely different side. They have to completely change.”

“I like the battle [between the mice and soldiers], because there’s a lot of acting,” Abbie said. “And when the bed spins, it’s going to be awesome.”

“I like the battle, and the beginning of Act 2, because that’s where the crowd claps the most,” Josh said. “And we get to fly away at the end!” Aidan added.

Pennsylvania Ballet is planning future seasons with their students in mind. Meanwhile, last spring, Abbie and Grace danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Annenberg Center, and in Pennsylvania Ballet’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The company will repeat Midsummer in June at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and plans to bring its children’s cast along.

But for now, the roles of Marie and the Prince are the pinnacle of children’s ballet stardom, in a Nutcracker filled with magical moments. “It’s like their dream,” Ochoa said.

Is it also the first step toward their destiny? Abbie and Aidan said they weren’t sure they wanted to dance professionally, while Josh said he might like to follow in his great-grandmother’s steps.

“I want to be a dancer when I grow up,” said Grace, whose mother studied with Pacific Northwest Ballet. “It’s been my dream since I was 3.”

Jane has it all planned out. “When I’m 16, I want to go to Paris and I want to be in Paris Opera Ballet for two years. And then I want to be an astrophysicist.”

DANCE

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker

Saturday through Dec. 29 at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets. Tickets: $35-$135. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.paballet.org

Copyright 2013 The Inquirer

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