Meagan Helman joined Ballet Theatre of Maryland as an apprentice dancer 11 years ago, only a year after Dianna Cuatto took the helm as artistic director.
The two have shared memorable shows together as the troupe emerged as the area's premier professional ballet company, but the coming production of "Nutcracker" at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts will likely be a bit "bitter-suite" — it will be Helman's final performance with the company.
Cuatto credits Helman, who lives in Annapolis, with "helping create the vision of BTM," saying her principal dancer has "graced the stage with beauty, sensitivity, magic and love through her every role."
Helman is moving to Tallahassee, Fla., though she's expected to have a return engagement on June 6. That's the date she has at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis for a wedding to marine biologist Mike Stukel.
Before going, though, she'll take on the "Nutcracker" role of the Dew Drop Fairy in performances scheduled for Dec. 13-21.
The show seems a perfect fit for this ballet mistress, highlighting not only her stage talents but her affinity for working with young dancers, such as those who make up the "Nutcracker" cast.
Cuatto said mentoring such dancers has been a hallmark of Helman's work with Ballet Theatre.
"Meagan has lent quiet support, motivating students and company members to reach their highest capabilities," she said. "She has been a stellar example of what a BTM dancer should emulate, as a mentor, an artist and a teacher — or even a choreographer from time to time."
Originally from Wilmington, Del., Helman trained first at Delaware Dance Company, then Urban Ballet Theatre in New York, then at the Atlanta Ballet, according to her online biography. She graduated from Goucher College in Towson, and while there spent time abroad at Middlesex University in London.
After joining Ballet Theatre of Maryland as an apprentice, she was promoted to full company member in 2006.
Cuatto said Helman has not only performed magic on stage, but "also brought beauty to BTM behind the scenes through her art work on our sets."
"Meagan has been the muse for me as a choreographer," Cuatto said, "creating such poignant roles as Beauty in 'Beauty and the Beast,' Princess Samira in 'Aladdin,' Jo in 'Little Women,' or Crimson Kate in 'Pirates of the Chesapeake.' "
"Nutcracker" memories for Cuatto will always include visions of sugarplums dancing in her head. No doubt memories of Helman's work will be there as well.
No holiday entertainment calendar is complete without the "Nutcracker" — the most famous Christmas party of all time.
E.T.A. Hoffmann's story of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," written in 1816, tells the tale of 12-year-old Clara receiving a nutcracker for her Christmas birthday from her uncle, Herr Drosselmeier. The gift brings Clara dreams of a magical kingdom where the nutcracker turns into a prince.
Along the way, the large living room where family friends gather to celebrate Clara's birthday is transformed into a kingdom of strange creatures who inhabit Clara's Christmas dream.
Tchaikovsky's 1892 score captures innocent Clara's visits to the Kingdoms of Snow and Sweets accompanied by her Nutcracker Prince. The Dew Drop Fairy, the Snow King and Queen and even lovable mice and frightening rats come alive in dance. In the second act, Tchaikovsky reflects diverse culture in musical portraits defining vigorous Russians, lively Spanish and Chinese along with exotic Arabians.
The Annapolis performances choreographed by Cuatto will feature three company dancers to rotate in the role of Clara: Nicole Kelsch, Lynn Bellinger and Elizabeth Fritto in her Ballet Theatre of Maryland debut.
The Nutcracker Prince will be portrayed by Alexander Collen and Peter Elverson.
Other major roles will be interpreted by dancers with the troupe; following in tradition, the role of Drosselmeier will be danced by Albert Kessler — Cuatto's husband.
Performances of Ballet Theater of Maryland's "Nutcracker" will be held at 7 p.m. Saturdays, Dec. 13 and 20; and 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 14 and 21, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. Tickets are available for all performances and can be purchased online at marylandhall.org or by calling 410-280-5640.