With many chances to see ‘The Nutcracker’ in Howard, familiarity breeds fans’ devotion

Central Maryland Youth Ballet performs a narrated “The Nutcracker” at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School Performing Arts Center on Dec. 20 and 21.
Central Maryland Youth Ballet performs a narrated “The Nutcracker” at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School Performing Arts Center on Dec. 20 and 21. (HANDOUT)

In the dance world, December means it’s time again for a dashing young prince to sweep a young girl named Clara away to the magical Kingdom of Sweets where music, movement and mystery abound. In other words, it’s “The Nutcracker” time.

It’s that very familiarity that helps make “Nuts” so attractive to fans year after year. One sure way to get into the holiday spirit is to see a live production of “The Nutcracker,” modern or traditional, lavish or homespun, full-length or abbreviated, and always geared for kids.


Noted this holiday season is the passing of the torch of these “suite” dreams from one generation to another. What a joy it must be to see your protégés dance a cherished role, knowing these gestures, so personal and ephemeral, will be carried on.

These were my thoughts at a Sunday afternoon rehearsal for the Central Maryland Youth Ballet’s 12th annual “Nutcracker” production that began with a handful of students at Slayton House and now boasts a cast of 70, including nine boys. Currently based in an upstairs studio on Berger Road in Columbia, husband-and-wife Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice oversee dozens of adults, children, costumes, props and notebooks galore.


Williams stood on a table as she directed little angels in the beautiful second act snow scene. Her movements, as a shadow Sugar Plum Fairy, were gorgeous and one could imagine the director dancing on stage as she did in her professional career with the renowned Joffrey Ballet.

“We function as one big family,” Rice commented while adjusting a costume on a young dancer. “There are families with two and three children in the production, including one set of twins.”

Those adorable little ones caught my attention, especially one ballerina twirling her paper umbrella in the Chinese (Tea) dance. Meanwhile,13-year-old Gabe Gray, who attends Harper’s Choice Middle School, could hardly restrain his enthusiasm for his high kicks in the Russian dance.

Glenelg High School student Grace Whitken appeared poised and confident in her Marzipan solo. Isabel Sinnott displayed that same elegance en pointe in the sinuous Arabian variation.

Still, it was Julia Gruppo, a 17-year-old Centennial High School senior, who wowed us with her poise and lyricism as both the Snow Queen and Dew Drop Fairy.

Central Maryland Youth Ballet performs a narrated “Nutcracker” at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School Performing Arts Center, 17301 Old Vic Blvd., Olney, on Friday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 21, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 adults and $15 students/children. Go to brownpapertickets.com.

The Patapsco Youth Ballet, a treasure in a tucked-away studio on Shaker Drive in Columbia, presents its “Nutcracker” recital at Mercy High School, in The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Auditorium, 1300 East Northern Pkwy, Baltimore, on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Call 410-992-4084.

The Arabesque Dance Center may be the only county company to perform a full-length “The Nutcracker” here in Howard County. Columbia’s first dance studio boasts three generations: founding director Marcia Lachman, daughter Ginger Freint and her daughter Lisa, who have been involved with the holiday ballet since its beginning.

“Arabesque gears its production to capture the attention of the youngest child and the most sophisticated balletomane," the late Marcia Lachman once told this reporter. Columbia’s first dance teacher emphasized her “love for children,” a philosophy that she believed is Arabesque’s most important tradition.

“Little girls and boys who come for their first dance class at age 4 or 5 grow up in this studio," she said. "They become a part of the magic that stays with them all their lives.”

Arabesque dancers perform at The Jim Rouse Theater on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 14 and 15, at 2 p.m. For more information, call 410-381-0017 or go to livetodance.com.

Recently, I caught up with the Cindee Velle and her talented ballet troupe, Ballet with Cindee Velle, at Stone House, in the Long Reach Village Center. Vellle, who danced as a teen at Mt. Hebron and later in professional shows, has created a wonderful addition to “The Nutcracker” repertory.


“Much of my choreography is influenced by what I remember as a child when I danced with The National Ballet, and at the age of 8 I was hooked.”

“We are definitely multi-generational,” said Velle, when asked to describe her company and its upcoming tour. “My daughter Aimee Moran [who just had her third baby] helps with teaching and choreography. She grew up in our productions.”

Company dancer, Emily Rose Brock, a junior at Wilde Lake High School, also has a long history with CCB’s “Nutcracker;” she started as a tiny tot. Katelyn Otten, an eighth grader at Resurrection St. Paul School, has been dancing with Velle since she was 2. Her mom Rachel teaches at the studio and choreographs the dancers.

“These two girls are great team players, and our younger dancers look up to them,” Velle said with more than a hint of pride. “It’s a joy to see the ‘Nutcracker’ torch being passed on from these more experienced teenage dancers to the newbies.”

Velle’s Columbia Chamber Ballet will perform an abbreviated “Nutcracker” during The Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees at the state fairgrounds in Timonium on Sunday, Dec. 1, at 3 p.m. Go to festivaloftrees.kennedykrieger.org.

It will also perform in The Great Room at Historic Savage Mill, 8600 Foundry St., in Savage, on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. The finale takes place at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road, in Ellicott City, on Saturday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. For ticket information, go to .cindeevellebattet.org.

A free concert will be presented by the company on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 3 p.m. at the Stone House, 8775 Cloudleap Court, in Columbia. Go to nutcracker.eventbrite.com.

For 45 years, the Columbia Figure Skating Club has provided area skaters with opportunities to pursue recreational and competitive skating at its home, the Columbia Ice Rink in the Oakland Mills Village Center. Each holiday season, the skaters perform a wonderful adaptation of “The Nutcracker,” an ice ballet that captures the winter wonderland of old Russia where Tchaikovsky created the tinkling score.

“The Nutcracker on Ice” is the only ice-skating show of its kind in our area and features over 100 performers, youngsters and adults, high-level skaters among them.

On a personal note, I have enjoyed founding director Pat Muth’s special touches in her ice shows. Somehow, it feels right that the Snow Queen is skating across the rink as the flakes fall from the rafters.


Tickets always sell quickly. Shows are on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 5:30 and 7:15 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 16 at 4:30 and 6 p.m. Bring a blanket to snuggle the little ones.


The Kinetics Dance Theatre’s Student and Apprentice Dance Companies return this season with an hour-long hoot called “The Cracked Nut," which incorporates ballet, modern and contemporary dance styles to tell the classic story of Clara with a few twists. Expect the little ones to be charmed. Performances are at 3 and 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 13 and 14, at Slayton House Theater, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia. Stick around after the show for some hot chocolate and conversation. For ticket information, call 410-480-1686 or go to school@kineticsdance.org.

Misako Ballet Studio’s Holiday Concert, with excerpts from “The Nutcracker,” will be held in the Columbia studio in the Harpers Choice Village Center, 5485 Harpers Farm Road, suite 203, Columbia, on Friday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. There will also be a holiday program at the Howard County Library Miller Branch on Saturday, Dec. 14, at 2:30 p.m. Call 410-884-9690 or go to misakodance.com.

Olney Ballet Theatre’s founding director, Pat Berrend, trained under Mary Day, the founding director of the Washington Ballet. Berrend has starred in dozens of The Washington Ballet’s “Nutcrackers" and now runs her own company with a nod to her mentor. She puts on one of the best “Nutcracker” productions around.

With a number of Howard County dancers on the roster and special guest artists, it’s a not-to-be-missed event.

Note the appearance of Martin Justo as the Cavalier. He’s the talented son of Columbia native, Anita Pacylowski, who graced both local and international stages with her impeccable interpretation of the Sugarplum Fairy.

Olney Ballet performs “Mary Day’s Nutcracker” at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney, Dec.13-24. Call 443-621-2113 for more information.

Montgomery County’s Metropolitan Ballet Theatre recently opened a satellite studio in Clarksville and no doubt there will be lots of Howard County students performing in MBT’s “Nutcracker.” It’s a swell production that features student and professional dancers, gorgeous costumes and beautiful scenery, including a Christmas tree that seemingly grows forever.

All performances take place at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center, Montgomery College in Rockville. Call 410-715-8764 for details and directions.

For something different

“There are so many opportunities to see ‘The Nutcracker’ in our area, I thought it might be nice for people to have a different option this holiday season,” said Lori Ann Struss, director of Genesis Dance Center in Columbia. The longtime dance teacher-choreographer will present “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” featuring adults and kids. Check out triple threat 7-year-old Gillian Bell as Cindy Lou.

“These days we all feel a little too ‘grinchy’ with too much on our plates,” said Struss, who choreographed a mix of dance styles to music from both the cartoon and film. “The Grinch reminds us what Christmas is really about,”

General admission is $15 for the one-show-only at Slayton House, Village of Wilde Lake, Friday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m.

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