Whether recalling your own childhood introduction to the magical universe of dance or watching a young ballerina take on the role of a Sugar Plum Fairy for the first time, “The Nutcracker” can always be counted on for special memories.
From now until the end of the holiday season, dozens of “Nutcracker” productions will unfold on area stages. Lavish or plain, performed to live or recorded music, mounted by professionals or presented in school recitals, each fills a need and deserves to be celebrated.
Here are some of the special holiday ballet performances that are convenient to local families. Ticket prices are reasonable, about the same price as a blockbuster movie, and some offer discounts for military personnel, students and seniors, so no one should have to go without a helping of “Nuts” this holiday.
L’Etoile, the Classical Ballet Theater of Maryland’s officially opens the “Nutcracker” season this Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts at Wilde Lake High School.
For this eighth annual presentation, artistic directors and choreographers, Svetlana Kravtsova and Vadim Pijicov, have added a Russian touch to the holiday spectacle. The stage pictures alone should be worth the price of a ticket, including a landscape of cottony snow, a palace decked in royal blue and an enchanted battlefield overrun by giant mice with funny looking tails.
As for the human element, one guaranteed crowd-pleaser is Caroline Linehan, a June graduate of L’Etoile’s ballet academy who currently dances with Manassas Ballet Theatre in Virginia. She is a true whiz kid when it comes to ballet technique, and demonstrates a daunting control over the challenges of dancing the Sugarplum Fairy.
She will be accompanied by her Cavalier, Shady Mohamod. Other guest artists include Vadim Slatvitsky and Hallie Wilde in the acrobatic Arabian dance –– he’s also the Mouse King who gets to show off his Russian bravura.
The pre-professional teenagers to watch include Demcy Grill, a junior at Marriotts Ridge High School who is making her debut as Clara. Graduating Centennial High Shool senior Anna Yang soars in the Spanish variation. Claire Guo, a junior at MRHS, was chosen as the Snow Queen. Her high school classmate Natalie Winik tackles the Chinese solo in the second act. June Hua, a sophomore at Marriotts Ridge, makes merry as a Mirliton.
At a recent rehearsal, the tinkling piano sounds of Tchaikovsky could be heard throughout L’Etoile’s multi-studio complex where an advanced class was being taught by Kravtsova with her husband (Pijicov) nearby. The studio was buzzing with preparations for the upcoming performance. There was laughter everywhere, an esprit de corps in a serious ballet conservatory.
Pijicov demonstrated both movement and mime for Herr Drosselmeyer, a role he performs each holiday season. Sometimes the character is portrayed as a curmudgeon; mostly, though, he keeps the story moving along with his magical touches and caring ways. Children and adults are certain to enjoy Vadim’s authentic rendition.
When the class ended, the adults left and younger dancers continued to stretch and work on the ballet steps that were created over 100 years ago. The gorgeous tutus, handmade with loving touches of tuille and sparkles, had been carefully removed from the rehearsal room to give dancers space to practice sweeping waltzes, so beautiful, and so Russian!
L’Etoile, The Classical Ballet Theatre of Maryland dances the full-length “Nutcracker” ballet at the Jim Rouse Theatre, at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, this Saturday, Nov. 24, at 5 p.m. Tickets are $29 for adults; $23 for children and seniors. For information on L'Etoile, including its spring production and classes, call 443-983-0822 or go to russballet.org.
Debra Devoe, who teaches ballet at L’Etoile and second grade at Glenelg Country School, has written a book about “The Nutcracker.” Geared for elementary school children, “Ballet Busers Leap into the First Nutcracker” is an informative tale about its roots as well as the excitement of performing.
At a recent book signing at Barnes & Noble in Ellicott City, Devoe talked about her experiences with the ballet book.
“Dancers get to travel back 100 years to the first ‘Nutcracker’ in St. Petersburg. It’s an amazing journey these young dancers experience, learning about the history of the ballet, battling bullies, and causing chaos onstage and off.”
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. Expect scenes such as Clara’s dreamy dance, a wild Mouse Queen, the always sweet Sugarplum Fairy solo and, of course, snowy dances.
The costumes are pretty and the dancers well rehearsed, especially Lauren Carr, Gene Kelly and Katelyn Otten. Velle, a native Howard Countian, has been putting on these shows since her teen years, and she always donates profits to local organizations like “EC Strong,” a favorite of the dancer/director.
Based at the Long Reach Village Center, Columbia Chamber Ballet takes the show on the road, beginning this Sunday, Nov. 25, at 3 p.m. at the Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. The Sunday, Dec. 9 show at Stone House is sold-out – call for cancellations
Two shows are slated Dec. 21-22, 7:30 p.m., at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City, and a Dec. 21, 7 p.m. performance in the great room at Historic Savage Mil, 8600 Foundry St., Savage. For other dates, call 410-465-7674 or go to cindeevelleballet.com.
Columbia-based Patuxent Youth Ballet kicks off its charming rendition of “The Nutcracker” at the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Auditorium in Baltimore's Mercy High School, 1300 E. Northern Pkwy, Baltimore, Saturday, Dec. 1, at 3 p.m.. There's no reserved seating and tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. A critic friend enjoyed this production and plans to take her granddaughter back for another look at this child-friendly version. The website is marylandballet.com.
The Olney Ballet Theatre, directed by Pat Berrend, carries on the tradition of a classic “Nutcracker” like no other dance company. Berrend bases her rendition on the Washington Ballet, founded by by her mentor, Mary Day, whose ballet contributions continue to influence the Olney company.
And that’s terrific. Here is a “Nutcracker” that captures the essence of this classic work with superb dancing, dramatic flair and humor.
There are 16 offerings of this fine-tuned production starting Thursday, Dec. 6 through Monday, Dec. 24 in the Historic Theatre Center, 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney. Tickets range from $27-$42, available online at olneyballet.org or call 301-924-3400.
Even if you’re already acquainted with the Snow Queen, her Cavalier and the mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer, chances are you’re not used to seeing them gliding in on a sheet of ice. But glide they do when the Columbia Figure Skating Club performs “The Nutcracker,” on ice, of course. As in past seasons, this production has made my “Best 10” dance list, and kudos to Pat Muth who has directed the skaters for four decades, keeping a tradition alive.
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 are free, available online at columbiafsc.com, but hurry as they sell out quickly.
Also, it’s chilly sitting near the ice, so bring a blanket to snuggle the little ones.
The Arabesque Dance Company, founded by the late Marcia Lachman and now under the guiding eye of her daughter, Ginger Freint, has been putting on delightful and well-rehearsed “Nutcracker” shows for a long time. Last year the Lachman family celebrated 50 years of dance training – the first school was located in the Wilde Lake Village Center.
“Our ‘Nutcracker’ performance is especially adapted for a child’s interest level and has become a holiday tradition for many area families,” said Ginger Freint at her Arabesque studio office and dance supplies store, just off Oakland Mills Road in Columbia. “Again this year we will honor my mother with these performances.”
Among the teenage ballerinas with leading roles are Centennial High School student, Alaina Dagenais as the Sugarplum Fairy, and sharing the part of Clara are Caroline Salopek and Julia McCanna, both students at River Hill High School.
The Arabesque Dance Company performs “The Nutcracker” at the Jim Rouse Theatre, in the Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8-9, at 2 p.m. Call 410-381-0017 or go to livetodance.com.
The Sugarplum 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 senior Samantha Mammel has that covered when Central Maryland Youth Ballet Company performs its lovely rendition away from Columbia-based home.
Husband and wife dance directors Jacob Rice and Kimmary Willliams began their Howard County “Nutcracker” traditions with a “petite version” geared for the little ones. Now with over a decade of dance training and growth, both in size and space, the company has expanded with advanced dancers performing solos and some difficult steps with grace and finesse.
Note these featured performers: Katherine O’Rourke, a senior at River Hill High School, as the “Lead Arabian.” Lena Galstad, a sophomore at Reservoir High School, performs both as the Snow Queen and the Dewdrop Fairy. Julia Gruppo, a junior at Centennial High School, leads the Chinese dance and the Marzipan delight. Michelle Ma, a student at Clarksville Elementary School, earned the special role as Clara, while Isaac Mammel, a sophomore at Centennial High School, will become her Nutcracker Prince.
“Passing on my love of ballet to my students and seeing the joy in their eyes is special,” says Rice, whose professional dance resume could fill this column. “Fortunately, I am still able to perform. I’ve been blessed to have such longevity in this art I enjoy so much.”
In past shows, Kimmary Williams describes the scenes to the children in the audience and Rice guides the dancers on stage. He is a fine partner for the young ballerinas, and they, in turn, beam on stage. Still, it’s Samantha as the Sugarplum Fairy, who will hold everyone’s attention with her precise movements to the tinkling Tchaikovsky score as she endeavors to keep all those tiny sugarplum darlings from tripping over one another in the Land of the Sweets.
Central Maryland Youth Ballet returns to Our Lady of Good Counsel High School Performing Arts Center in Olney Saturday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 16, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $22 online at centralmarylandyouthballet.com.
Misako Ballet Studio’s Annual Holiday Concert, with excerpts from “The Nutcracker” will be held in its Columbia studio in the Harpers Choice Village Center, 5485 Harpers Farm Road, Suite 203, Columbia, on Friday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. There will also be a program at the Miller Branch library on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m.
It’s also special to watch Misako’s dancers perform in the candy variations, including Isabelle Zhan, Tessa Hansen, Erin Rao, Valerie Hsieh, Chloe Shader, Faith Hupp, Grace Chen and Melody Shang. For information on classes and the winter concert in February, go to misakoballet.org.
While it’s “Nutcracker” season for most dance companies across the region, Charm City Ballet presents something unique, an original full-length ballet based on that other familiar holiday tale, "A Christmas Carol." What’s special about this production is the direction of its founder, Rebecca Friedman, an outstanding ballerina who has been featured numerous times as the Sugarplum Fairy, among other leading roles.
Becca Friedman and Peter Commander are rivieting on stage – he’s an incredible tap dancer, she, a lithe ballerina with a smile that delights the little ones. They met at Goucher College where they studied and performed in the highly regarded dance department with both faculty and renowned guest artists. Their productions are unique in that community dancers from all walks of life perform together in high-quality ballet dances throughout the tale.