For the past few weeks, the sugar plum fairies, butterflies, angels and Arabians have been practicing their steps.
Sixteen young ballet students from Howard County pile into their parents' cars each Sunday and make the trek to Towson University's Burdick Hall, where they learn and rehearse their parts in the perennial Christmastime favorite, "The Nutcracker."
Though it often seems productions of "The Nutcracker" in December are more numerous than snowflakes in winter, this "Nutcracker" is special for these dancers.
The students from Columbia's Arabesque Dance Studio will perform with the famed Moscow Ballet at Baltimore's Mechanic Theatre.
It will be the second year in a row that the Moscow Ballet has performed the classic ballet at the Mechanic, but it will be the first time these kids have shared the stage with a world-class ballet troupe.
It's not likely to be something any of them will forget.
"You feel very important because you're working with professional dancers," says Brittany Born, 10, a pupil at St. Louis Catholic School in Clarksville. "It's going to be like backstage passes to the Moscow Ballet."
Kaitlin Benson, 12, who attends Burleigh Manor Middle School in Ellicott City, says performing with the esteemed ballet company is "an honor. Dancing with such an important dance company is really special, and we all feel very good."
Melissa Palazzolo, 14, attended the Moscow Ballet's "Nutcracker" performance at the Mechanic last year. The experience has stayed with her.
"I've seen other 'Nutcrackers,' but theirs was the best," she says. "It's so great to be able to learn a little bit about the Russian technique."
The Russian technique, the youngsters say, turns out to be not so different from what they learn at Arabesque. For these students, the technical differences are minor: a flourish here while on pointe, a pointed toe there.
All the same, learning steps from the Moscow Ballet's principal ballerina (whom the students see on video) and dancing with the company on a professional stage is like a dream, says Liza Frient, 9, a pupil at Waverly Elementary in Ellicott City.
"It's fun to get to know Russian people," Liza says. "Sometimes it's really hard to understand what she's saying because she's got such a strong Russian voice," she says, referring to the Moscow Ballet's dance instructor, who goes to Towson to supervise the children's progress in time for the performances Dec. 10-12.
Though the young ballet dancers have performed their own "Nutcracker" production at Smith Theatre at Howard Community College every holiday season for the past few years, dancing with the Russians is the biggest thrill of their lives.
"It's exciting being with more experienced dancers," says Caitlin Taylor, 12, an Ellicott Mills Middle School pupil.
Ginger Lockman Frient, co-owner of Arabesque Dance Studio and Liza's mother, agrees.
"I thought [the ballet] would be a good experience and that Liza should try out for it," says Frient. "All the kids are just so excited and they really are a cute bunch. They come in here and tell us how big a deal everyone at their schools are making over this production."
The young ballet stars won't get to meet the members of the Moscow Ballet until the day of their first performance.
Then, says Brittany Born, "we can finally get their autographs. We can save them forever and give them to our own children."
Moscow Ballet performances at the Mechanic Theatre: 7: 30 p.m. Dec. 10; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 11; 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Dec 12. Tickets start at $20.50. Information: 410-481-SEAT.
Pub Date: 11/25/99