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Eldersburg local performs Nutcracker at Lyric

Eldersburg resident Brooke Mello, 17, is dancing one of the lead roles in the Baltimore School for the Arts' annual production of "The Nutcracker," and this year's performance will be different from any year before.

For the first time ever, the Baltimore School for the Arts is performing "The Nutcracker" at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, in conjunction with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Brooke has been dancing for most of her life, and she is no stranger to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's holiday classic.

Brooke's mother, Diane Mello, said she enrolled Brooke in dance classes when she was 3 years old.

"By the time she was 4 or 5 she was coming home from class complaining that the other girls were just playing and weren't taking it seriously," Diane said. "During performances all the other girls were looking off to the side of the stage watching the instructor, and she would just be doing it. You could tell then that she knew it, she got it."

When Brooke was in elementary school, her parents enrolled her in dance classes at Carroll County Dance Center in Sykesville.

"In third grade is when I really got serious with it and knew that I wanted to pursue a life of dance," Brooke said.

When she was in third grade, Brooke performed as a little party girl and a toy solider in her first production of "The Nutcracker."

She transferred from Liberty High School to the Baltimore School for the Arts during her sophomore year, after auditioning and being accepted into the school.

Brooke said she loves going to school everyday with students who have the same life goal as she does - to become a professional dancer. Although the students can get competitive at times, Brooke said she has met her best friends at the Baltimore School for the Arts.

She spends up to 12 hours a day at school. The first half of her school day consists of academic classes, and then after lunch she spends the rest of school in dance class.

Even after that, Brooke heads to rehearsals, sometimes not getting home until late at night.

"It's a much longer school day, but half of it is dancing so I can't really complain," she said.

Brooke carpools to school every morning with other students from the area, but her mother, Diane, picks her up each night.

"It's a lot of driving, it's a lot of waiting, rehearsals don't end on time, and it doesn't always go as planned ... it is a lot, but it's worth it," Diane said. "Brooke has never complained about having to go to rehearsal or perform on the weekends, it's been her priority. We're always so proud of her."

Norma Pera, the head of the school's dance department, said Brooke is an excellent student to work with.

"She is the kind of student that teachers enjoy having in class and she's always eager to work , open to instruction and critique and always prepared," Pera said. "Brooke is also a strong academic student even though her rehearsals often run until 6:30 p.m., when she starts at 8:30 a.m."

Most recently Brooke has been rehearsing for her third production of "The Nutcracker" with the Baltimore School for the Arts. It is her ninth production of the show since she started dancing 14 years ago.

But this year is different.

"Throughout the years I've pretty much done everything and this year I am the Snow Queen," Brooke said. "It's not just having a lead role, but having a lead role at the venue that it's at and having a live orchestra perform with us - I've never done anything like it before."

Pera said Brooke went through two rounds of auditions before she was actually able to audition for the choreographer of "The Nutcracker." Brooke won the part of the Snow Queen because the choreographer felt she had the right energy and a strong technique for the role. Baltimore School for the Arts students have been performing "The Nutcracker" for more than 25 years.

This year mark's the first time the school has come together to perform the production at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, alongside the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and with backdrops designed by students at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The Dec. 21 and 22 shows will feature 120 Baltimore School for the Arts students.

Brooke said she and her classmates have been looking forward to this moment for a year.

"It's a Christmas tradition, it's just something that happens every year," she said. "The last show ends and everybody is thinking about next year's Nutcracker, looking forward to what role you'll have next year and what the show will be like."

Diane said she, along with Brooke's father and two older brothers, feels the same way.

"It's not Christmas until we've seen 'The Nutcracker,'" she said.

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