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Central Maryland Youth Ballet's 2015 performance of "The Nutcracker"
Central Maryland Youth Ballet's 2015 performance of "The Nutcracker" (Submitted photo /)

As soon as you gobble up that Thanksgiving dinner, start searching for the sweet treats of "The Nutcracker" ballet. There are a dozen local productions of this holiday chestnut, both grand scale and those geared for the little ones, some starting this Thanksgiving weekend. A few are professional visions with visiting guest artists, but don't underestimate the joys of a neighborhood showcase filled with sweet little ones romping about the stage dressed up like mice and steadfast soldiers.

First out of the box this weekend is Columbia's authentic Russian-inspired L'Etoile, The Classical Ballet Theatre of Maryland, preparing for its annual production at The Jim Rouse Theatre, Nov. 26-27.

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At a recent L'Etoile rehearsal, the dancers pushed aside the Christmas ornaments, tutus, toe shoes and all the myriad of props to allow ballet director Vadim Pijicov ample space for his high jumps and sensitive partnering. All eyes were on the former Moscow dance star when he stepped in to lift 17-year-old Grace Zhang high above his head. When the final production goes up on Nov. 26, Leonid Goykhman, a guest dancer from the First State Ballet, will perform this princely role, the lucky guy who guides the ballerina in pirouettes and swooping lifts.

"Grace is my daughter … she has been so much a part of our lives for the past nine years," says Svetlana Kratsova, the artistic director of the school and chief choreographer for "Nuts," together with her husband, Pijicov. He dances the role of the mysterious uncle who causes havoc in the first act.

Two teenage ballerinas, Ashley Xu, a junior at Centennial High School, and Hannalise Shaughnessy, a sophomore at the Bryn Mawr School, alternate as young Clara, the girl who dreams of being rescued by her nutcracker prince, while Andrea Fox, a junior at Mt. Hebron High School, becomes the lovely Snow Queen. Jeanne Doyle, a senior at Mt. Hebron High School, performs the " Waltz of the Flowers."

Still, it's Zhang, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, who will hold everyone's attention with her precise movements to the tinkling Tchaikovsky score as she endeavors to keep all those tiny sugar plum darlings from tripping over one another in the Land of the Sweets.

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"This year's 'Nutcracker' is special to me because it is my last year performing in this production before graduating from Centennial High School," Zhang commented after the rehearsal. "From my first performance as a party girl and a mouse to my current role as the Sugar Plum, it is incredible for me to see how L'Etoile has helped me grow as a dancer as well as an individual. My final year here will be bittersweet as this significant chapter of my life ends, but I look forward to continuing my dance career in college and watching the current young dancers at the studio grow into talented professionals."

"The Nutcracker" will be performed Nov. 26, at 5 p.m. and Nov. 27, at 3 p.m., at the Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets are $25; $20 for seniors and ages 5 to 11; under 5 is free, but no seats. All tickets purchased at the door $27. For information on L'Etoile, including its spring production of "Le Corsaire," go to www.russballet.org.

The Columbia Chamber Ballet, the performing company of Ballet with Cindee Velle, offers Nutcracker performances that are short (less than an hour) and geared for families. Besides the familiar scenes such as Clara's dreamy dance, a Mouse Queen riot, the dazzling Sugar Plum Fairy solo, and, of course, snowy variations, the costumes are pretty and the dancers well rehearsed. Based at the Long Reach Village Center, Columbia Chamber Ballet takes it productionon tour with seven shows beginning Nov. 27, at 4:15 p.m. at the Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. Two shows — a Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m. performance at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City, and a Dec. 20, 7 p.m., performance in the great room at Historic Savage Mil, 8600 Foundry St., Savage, will charge $10 a ticket with all proceeds donated to the Ellicott City Strong effort. For other dates,call 410-465-7674 or go to www.cindeevelleballet.com.

Every serious balletomane should relax once in a while and take in a Nutcracker performance that pokes fun at the silly characters. The Ellicott City-based Kinetics Dance Theatre's student companies perform its annual spoof, "The Cracked Nut" at Slayton House in the Village of Wilde Lake, on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11, at 7 p.m. With ballet, modern and contemporary dance styles, this snappy version tells the classic story of Clara and her journey to the magical Land of the Sweets, only with a few surprises.

Baltimore Symphony associate conductor Nicholas Hersh leads orchestra in vivid program of Tchaikovsky, Ravel (with soprano Nicole Cabell) and Adams.

Choreographer Heinz Adjakwah adds a unique take on the traditional soldier doll with step dancing choreography. The role of Clara will be performed by 10-year-old Delaney Lane, a member of Kinetics Kids Company. 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. 10 and 11, 7 p.m., at Slayton House Theater, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia. Tickets are $8. Call 410-480-1686 or go to school@kineticsdance.org. It's a hoot.

Space is always an issue for non-profit ballet companies, especially this time of year. Which may be one reason why the Columbia-based Patuxent Youth Ballet performs its sweet Nutcracker ballet at the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Auditorium in Baltimore's Mercy High School, 1300 E. Northern Parkway, Baltimore, on Dec. 10, at 5 p.m.. There's no reserved seating and tickets ($20 in advance, $25 at the door) are required for everyone older than 3. The website is www.marylandballet.com.

The Columbia Figure Skating Club always puts on a delightful production of "The Nutcracker," on ice, of course. This 26th annual show will feature new scenes and 100-plus ice skaters. Kudos to Pat Muth for her 40-years plus of guiding young skaters.

The skating club, which began in 1973, performs "The Nutcracker" four times at the Columbia Ice Rink in the Oakland Mills Village Center, Dec. 10-11. It's always a sell-out. Bring a blanket to wrap the little ones.

Performances are Dec. 10, at 5:15 and 7 p.m. and Dec. 11, 4:30 and 6 p.m., at Columbia Ice Rink/Oakland Mills Village Center, 5876 Thunder Hill Road, Columbia. Tickets are $15, ages 3 and under freewww.columbiafsc.com.

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The Arabesque Dance Company, founded by Marcia Lachman (Columbia's first dance teacher) and now under the guiding eye of her daughter, Ginger Freint, has been putting on Nutcracker shows for a long time.In 2017, Lachman and her family will celebrate 50 years of fine dance training — her first school was located in the Wilde Lake Village Center.

The Arabesque production is a family affair choreographed to capture the attention of the youngest child as well as a longtime fan. Among the teenage ballerinas with leading roles are Maya Richard and Rowan Greenawalt as the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Arabesque dancers perform "The Nutcracker Ballet" at the Jim Rouse Theatre in the Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, Dec.17 and 18, at 2 p.m. Call 410-381-0017or visit www.livetodance.com.

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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. Graduating high school senior Noelle Diaz has that covered as well as performing the alternate role of the Snow Queen in the Central Maryland Youth Ballet Company production of "Nutcracker" at Reservoir High School Dec. 17-18.

Ballet directors, Jacob Rice and Kimmary Williams, boast a huge growth in their Nutcracker productions, from their first "petite versions" at Slayton House Theater, to a fully-costumed, two-act ballet that features dozens of dancers, including ballet soloists and graduating seniors, Victoria Hanger and Samantha Smith.

What hasn't chanced over the past decade is the dedication this couple brings to this production.

"We began small," says Williams, "…but we've grown to a full-length ballet. I truly love these students and want the best for them."

Jeannie Gruoppo, who previously danced in the Howard County Ballet "Nuts," has joined CMYB. The closing of the HoCo Ballet Company created a void, but fortunately the Centennial High School sophomore is happy to be back on "The Nutcracker" stage.

"Central Maryland Youth Ballet has taught me a lot not just as a dancer but as a person, too," said the talented teenager (who has been featured in previous "Nuts" columns.) "CMYB gives me a warm and welcoming place to dance and a place where I can shine. It has structure, good teachers, but most importantly they care about all of their students."

Performances are Dec. 17 and 18, at 3 p.m., at Reservoir High School auditorium, 11550 Scaggsville Road, Fulton. Tickets are $22.Call 443-472-7772 or go online at www.cmyb.org for ticket requests.

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, Columbia, Friday, Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. There will also be a program at the Howard County Library Miller Branch on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 1:30 p.m. and Dec. 18, at 1 p.m. In January, the dance director celebrates the first anniversary of "Misako Beats" studio. Call 410-884-9690 or visit www.Misakobeats.com.

For five shows on Dec. 12 and 13, the Columbia Figure Skating Club will transform the Columbia Association Ice Rink in Oakland Mills into a winter wonderland as nearly 100 of its members perform the popular ballet, scored by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, on skates.

Founding director Lori Pryor presents her Genesis Arts dance students in a special holiday 'Winter Showcase' at Slayton House in the Wilde Lake Village, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, on Dec. 18, at 4 p.m. Excerpts from "The Nutcracker" and other holiday dances are part of this geared-for-kids program. Tickets are $15. For more information, 443-750-1332

Meanwhile Glenelg Country upper school student Nicolle Pines is a featured dancer in the Olney Ballet Theatre production of "The Nutcracker," lovingly preserved by Patricia Berrend in the tradition of Mary Day, founder of the Washington Ballet. This version is perfect for the little ones as the characters come alive in the second act — especially funny is the little boy who hangs on to the baker's cookie plate in the land of the sweets. The Olney Ballet Theatre presents Mary Day's "The Nutcracker" at Olney Theatre Center's Historic Stage, 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney, various times Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in December beginning Dec. 9; Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, Dec. 22, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $42; $20 for students, children; $38 for seniors. www.berrenddance.com. or 301-924-3400

The Carroll County Dance Center presents its rendition of "The Nutcracker" at Carroll Community College in Westminster Dec. 17 and 18 for three shows. A number of students from Howard County will perform in this splendid production with top-notch dancers and superb guest artists. Call 410-795-3255 for ticket information or purchase tickets at http://www.etix.com/ticket/v/10642/carroll-community-college-theater.

A Christmas Carol to cherish

Rebecca Friedman is an amazing young woman who directs Charm City Ballet Company despite a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis. The Columbia native has starred as a Sugar Plum princess in the Howard County Ballet productions of "The Nutcracker," but has chosen a different outlet for her dance company. Together with Peter Commander, Friedman presents the second annual "A Christmas Carol" 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.



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