Dayton girl dances away from the farm into Nutcracker lead


Katie Santilli could have ended up being one of the most graceful pig farmers in Maryland.

The Dayton 12-year-old hasn't lost her interest in swine, she's chosen to pirouette to Tchaikovsky rather than slop hogs.

This weekend she is playing the lead role in "The Nutcracker" with two members of the renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem and earlier this month, she danced other roles with the world-famous Joffrey Ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

"It was really fun and exciting. It was wonderful just being up there and watching all the professionals. I really learned from them," said the 63-pound, 4-foot-6-inch Glenwood Middle School student.

"I learned some new steps and I met a lot of wonderful people."

Fun at the Kennedy Center

Katie performed with 58 Washington-area girls cast for the Joffrey's third Christmastime Nutcracker performance at the Kennedy Center, appearing in seven performances between Dec. 8 and Dec. 18.

It was the last performance that her mother, Marie Santilli, went to see.

"I thought it was spectacular. I think it was probably the most beautiful Nutcracker I've ever seen," she said. "It was just thrilling to see her up there on the stage, to actually see your child performing. You could tell that she was just having a ball doing it, too."

Katie's demeanor was apparent to Rhodie Jorgenson, who served as ballet mistress in charge of the 93 local children picked for the Joffrey performances.

"She did very well. All the children did beautifully," she said, adding that Katie "looked like she was having a wonderful time. She looked very content, and I never saw her complaining about anything."

Competition abounded

About 150 children from the Washington area auditioned for the Nutcracker back on Oct. 10.

Asked to sit at the side of the stage for two hours after her audition, Katie said, she didn't know she had gotten a part until her father read the work permit application and other forms she was sent home with.

She was picked to play one of the Polichinelles, who do cartwheels and leaps as they emerge from the puppet Mother Ginger's skirt, and a mouse that terrorizes Clara, the main character in the story.

On Sunday, she will perform as Clara at Hammond High School, in a production put on by one of the dance school she attends, Laurel's Central Maryland School of Ballet.

Even though it is in a high school auditorium, the performance is no small-time affair.

Also dancing in the ballet will be Patrick Johnson and Tasia Hooks, professionals from the Harlem Dance Theatre.

Katie met Mr. Johnson at a summer event at the Duke Ellington Theater in Washington.

Tickets are expected to be available at the door for both a 2 p.m. matinee and a 6 p.m. performance.

Katie said it's difficult to compare her previous experience with her seven nights on the professional stage.

"At the Kennedy Center, it was much bigger, and we had a real orchestra. At Hammond, we're just going to have a tape and, well, it's not the Kennedy Center, obviously."

It was actually Katie's sister, Liza, who got Katie interested in dance -- at a time when she had other interests.

"When I was 4, I wanted to be a pig farmer," Katie said, explaining that she has collected several hundred pieces of porcine paraphernalia, and even owned a live porker at one point.

But after watching Liza, now 17, take dance classes, Katie decided she could dance, too.

"She took a class and she loved it," Marie Santilli said of Katie. "She ended up staying and the big sister ended up leaving."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad