Let a magical ballet take you away this holiday

Howard County Times

Remember the way the holiday season used to make you feel? Remember walking around full of expectation, certain that wonderful, impossible magical things were about to happen? If you haven’t felt that way for a couple of years – or maybe a couple of decades – perhaps it’s time to see a live production of “The Nutcracker.” In these troubled times, we all could use a hug, some warm and fuzzy entertainment and a good-old fashioned version of the Christmas ballet.

Indeed, it’s that time of year when we dream of sugarplums and faraway places. Time to polish the ornaments, plant the gift boxes under the Christmas tree and sprinkle a little fairy dust on the dolls and toy soldiers. Time for the story about a little girl and her prince in a magical land, brought to life through a mix of music, movement and a dash of mystery.

Originally a minor German tale before becoming the grand Russian ballet, “The Nutcracker” is now danced more often here in the USA than anywhere else in the world. Since its 1892 premiere in St. Petersburg, the music - like the ballet - has become one of the most popular works, and not even Tchaikovsky (who died soon after the opening) could have envisioned this phenomenon.

“Nuts,” as it is known in the dance world, has been carried through generations by what dancers call “the memory of the muscle” - reason enough to celebrate this holiday chestnut. So whether you attend a professional version with big-time performers, a local mounting with visiting guest artists or just a simple neighborhood showcase filled with adorable tots taking their bows, “The Nutcracker” is always at its best when seen in the company of children.

The Arabesque Dance Co. was founded by Marcia Lachman but is now under the guiding eye of her daughter, Ginger Freint and her daughter, Liza. This family has been putting on Nutcracker shows for decades and recently celebrated 50 years of dance training, originally at the Wilde Lake Village Center, now in a spacious complex off Snowden Park in Oakland Mills.

Freint, who oversees the school and the production, points out that this season’s rendition features three generations of dancers. In many ways, the Arabesque production is a reunion – a homecoming for dancers who have trained there and have gone on to careers in the performing arts. STwo Howard County teens, Aneesa Altmad and Katie Hubbard, will alternate Clara.

The upcoming shows will be dedicated to the memory of Lachman, who passed away this month.

“The Nutcracker Ballet” will be performed by Arabesque at 2 p.m., on Dec. 9 and 10, at the Jim Rouse Theatre in the Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road. For ticket information, including group rates for Scouts and other organizations, call 410-381-0017or visit www.livetodance.com.

The Sugar Plum Fairy remains the most challenging role in “The Nutcracker” ballet. A ballerina must be secure in her classical technique and mature in her dramatic skills to excel in this role. She also must be a smart leader on stage. Centennial High School junior, Samantha Mammel, has that covered as well as keeping the chemistry alive with her princely partner, John Foster, who attends high school in Montgomery County.

The two teenage dancers at Central Maryland Youth Ballet, 9570 Berger Road, had pushed aside the Christmas ornaments, tutus and toe shoes and all the myriad of props, to allow Jacob Rice, CMYB co-director, ample space for demonstrating high jumps and sensitive partnering, passing on these cherished steps to his protégé. Watching Rice teach Foster how to present himself on stage in a perfect arabesque, it brought back memories of the importance of a ballet director.

“It is our 10th annual Nutcracker … hard to believe how quickly time goes by,” Rice said, with a hint of nostalgia for his role in the ballet created by his wife, Kimmary Williams.

“We are fortunate to have this ballet school, but mostly are grateful for the students who continue to enrich our lives, whether it’s a 5-year-old learning first position or an older dancer listening to Tchaikovsky's musical phrasing.”

There’s been a huge growth in Central Maryland Youth Ballet’s “Nutcracker” productions, from their first "petite versions" at Slayton House Theater, to the fully-costumed, two-act ballet on Dec. 9 and 10, at 2 p.m., at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School Performing Arts Center, 17301 Old Vic Blvd, Olney. What hasn’t changed is their dedication to their dancers. Tickets are $22. Call 443-472-7772 or go online at www.cmyb.org.

Cindee Velle and her Chamber Ballet are on tour, or in Columbia, with “The Nutcracker.” Velle’s stars include Katelin Perrigan, a junior at Long Reach High School and Katelyn Otten, an elementary student at Resurrection-St. Paul.

First stop on the tour is the Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees at the Maryland State Fairground, 2200 York Road, in Timonium, on Sunday, Nov. 26, at 4:30 p.m. When Velle performs “The Nutcracker” at Storehouse, in the Long Reach Village Center, on Sunday, Dec. 3, at 3 p.m., donations of a non-perishable food item for the Howard County Food Bank are requested. Space is limited; reservations are recommended. Other performances include Monday, Dec. 18, at Historic Savage Mill and Friday, Dec. 22, at the Howard County Arts Council Center. Call 410-730-8113 for information on all performances or go to www.cindeevelleballet.com.

The Columbia Figure Skating Club’s cool “Nuts” production features 100-plus ice skaters in gorgeous costumes and fabulous routines, on ice, of course. The skating club, which began in 1973, performs "The Nutcracker" four times (always a sell-out) at The Columbia Ice Rink, 5876 Thunder Hill Road. Show times are Saturday, Dec. 9, at 5:30 and 7:15 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 10, at 4:30 and 6 p.m. Tickets are $15, ages 3 and under are free. New this year is reserved seating with a separate entrance. Seats are $40 per person, available online at www.columbiafsc.com. Bring a blanket to snuggle the little ones.

Ballet director Svetlana Kravtsova is welcoming some interesting guests to her Thanksgiving dinner table. And they all speak Russian!

The occasion is L’Etoile, The Russian Ballet Academy of Maryland’s holiday helping of “The Nutcracker” with a roster of real Russian dancers. Renat Osmonov dances the role of Nutcracker prince who defeats the Mouse King and wins the heart of Clara. Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev, the cavalier, charms the heroine with his phenomenal technique and sensitive partnering.

Andrea Fox, a senior at Mt. Hebron and graduating ballet student, will alternate Clara and Sugar Plum roles with the company’s rising star ballerina, Caroline Linehan. Popular dancer/teacher, Vadim Pijicov, casts the magical spell as the mysterious uncle in the ballet, a part that kids love to watch.

Add to that the gorgeous costumes, especially the tutus worn by the Snow Queen and her corps de ballet – sigh! The funny mice, angles and little soldiers are adorable.

L’Etoile, The Russian Ballet Academy of Maryland dances this exquisite, full-length “Nutcracker” on Nov. 25, at 5 p.m. and Nov. 26, at 3 p.m., at the Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. For ticket information and a schedule of classes in the Columbia studio, visit www.russballet.org.

Lori Struss Weatherly grew up in Howard County and began her dance/theater career at Centennial High School. She credits Kathi Ferguson, founding director of the Howard County Ballet, for her “Nutcracker” inspiration, though the now award-winning choreographer/director has put a new spin on the ballet. Over the 21 years of presenting her unique version, the director of Genesis Arts has added hip-hop, humor and a lot of jazz – her specialty, of course.

Her production of “The Nutcracker” features students, ages 12 months to 57 years old, in a multi-discipline performance of an old holiday favorite. Check out the tapping teddy bears, caroling party guests — all set to music of Tchaikovsky and Duke Ellington, Friday, Dec. 15, 7 p.m. at Slayton House in the Village of Wilde Lake, Columbia. Call the studio at 443-750-1332 for ticket information or visit genesisarts5@gmail.com.

The Kinetics Dance Theatre’s Student and Apprentice Dance Companies return this season with an hour-long hoot called “The Cracked Nut,” geared for families with young children. Choreographer Alex J. Krebs takes a unique approach to the traditional doll dances by presenting Barbie as the magical nutcracker. Gwyn Watson, a member of the Junior Company, will perform the role of Clara. After the show, there will be a Land of the Sweets reception with hot cocoa and a meet and greet with the dancers. “The Cracked Nut” will be performed Dec. 9 and 10, at 7 p.m., at Slayton House Theater, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia. Call 410-480-1686 or go to school@kineticsdance.org.

Misako Ballet Studio's Annual Holiday Concert, with excerpts from “The Nutcracker,” will be held in her Columbia studio in the Harpers Choice Village Center, 5485 Harpers Farm Road, suite 203, on Friday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m. There will also be a program geared for the little ones at the Miller Branch of Howard County Library on Friday, Dec. 16, and Saturday, Dec. 17, both at 1:30 p.m. Call 410-884-9690 or visit www.Misakobeats.com.

Space continues to be a pressing issue for “Nutcracker” productions. The Jim Rouse Theatre is booked years in advance at a high cost. For the second year, the Patuxent Youth Ballet’s rendition will be performed Saturday, Dec. 9, at Mercy High School’s The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Auditorium, 1300 East Northern Pkwy, in Baltimore. Take the kids to this special matinee at 3 p.m.

Patricia Berrend trained under Mary Day, the founding director of The Washington Ballet, and was involved in numerous productions of “The Nutcracker” during her years as a company member, later as a teacher and director. Today, she heads up Olney Ballet Theatre, dedicated to carrying on the tradition of Day’s original choreography, something dance fans hold near and dear to their hearts.

Student dancers from the area perform alongside professional dancers from across the country, among them guest artist Martin Justo, of Columbia, who is the son of Anita Pacylowski, who danced with the Washington Ballet and starred in previous Olney productions.

Look for Howard County ballerinas Nicole Pines and Megan Mendez, both juniors at Glenelg Country School, and Kelsey Gilbert, a freshman at Long Reach High School. The three girls have multiple roles including the sultry “Arabian,” a spicy “Spanish” variation, “Waltz of the Flowers” and “Snow,” where the corps de ballet skim the stage as flakes falls upon them.

The Olney Ballet Theatre presents Mary Day’s “The Nutcracker” at Olney Theatre Center’s Historic Stage, 2001 Sandy Spring Road, Olney, various times Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in December beginning Dec. 8 through Christmas Eve matinee. The 14-performance run also includes a “Scout Night” special performance on Thursday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. For ticket information, visit www.olneyballet.org.

The Carroll County Dance Center presents its technically-proficient, yet sweet rendition, of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 17 and 18, at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road in Westminster. Look for a number of Howard County students in the dance roster. Tickets are $23. Call 410-795-3255 or go to www.etix.com/ticket.

From her childhood gracing Howard County stages as the Sugar Plum Fairy to co-founding her own company, Charm City Ballet in 2014, Rebecca Friedman’s path to center stage has followed in the footsteps of many visionary dancers before her. Her company’s third performance of “A Christmas Carol,” is

at the Gordon Center for the Arts, Saturday, Dec. 17, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. It's a joyful celebration, perfect for the holidays. Call 443-290-8806 or send an email to charmcityballet@gmail.com.

Founding director Cem Catbas celebrates his 17th season in Charm City. The Turkish-born dancer/choreographer presents his Baltimore Ballet Co., a mix of adults, children and visiting guest artists, in a fine production of “The Nutcracker” Saturday, Dec. 9, at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 10, at 4 p.m., at Goucher College’s Kraushaar Auditorum, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson. Tea with Clara takes place before the Sunday matinee. Tickets are $30, $40 at the door, and are available online at www.baltimoreballet.com.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland offers talented dancers the chance to perform on the big stage in front of packed houses – a rare treat. There’s a long history of cooperation and support going back to the late Eddie Stewart, a friend to Howard County ballet teachers and choreographers.

BTM dances its full-length Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 23, at 1 and 8 p.m., at ithe Modell Performing Arts Center, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., in Baltimore. It continues its holiday run at its Annapolis home. Visit www.ballettheatreofmaryland.org.

The Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” is Dec. 15 and 16 at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore. You can also catch the touring troupe Dec. 22 and 23 at Strathmore Music Center in Rockville.

The “Great Russian Nutcracker” is a splendid ballet in every sense, from grand dancing to a delicate partnering on a full stage that includes kids from The Moving Co. in Timonium and Misako Ballet, among other locals. All this and live music, too, especially the tinkling piano selections by Columbia’s award-winning Doug Lawler.

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The Washington Ballet’s party on the Potomac is in full swing at DC’s Warner Theatre, now through Christmas Eve. Septime Webre’s rendition amounts to a patriot’s dream, with George Washington as the heroic Nutcracker and King George III as the villainous Rat King. The first act opens with a tribute to Frederick Douglas, the intellectual voice of the African-American community, and to Civil War veterans. The second act is set on the banks of the Potomac, with cherry blossoms in full bloom – an ideal setting for the ballet’s “Waltz of the Flowers.”

Now under the direction of prima ballerina Julie Kent, The Washington Ballet features Howard County dancers during the run. The company still keeps some of the original Mary Day touches from when she was involved as director. Special dates include “Family Day” on Dec. 3, with a behind-the-scenes look at “The Nutcracker.” Military Appreciation Night is Wednesday, Dec. 6, and the delightful Tea Party Sunday, is Dec. 10. It’s all on www.WashingtonBallet.org

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