'Nutcracker' back on the ice

The Baltimore Sun

It was the final rehearsal before the annual Nutcracker on Ice, and the young skaters, dressed as mice and dolls and clowns and soldiers, were waiting to get on the rink.

Donna Timlen, president of the Columbia Figure Skating Club and manager of the show, was alternately shouting directions to the performers and keeping track of what still needed to be done.

"April needs a hat, we know we don't have a wand, we know we don't have a blanket," she told one of the many parent volunteers, who nodded and jotted detailed notes.

The Columbia Ice Rink was no longer the place for hockey games or wobbly lessons. It had been transformed into a grand living room with a brick fireplace and outsized, elaborately decorated tree, where a holiday party was taking place.

As the music played, the dancers whirled and glided, then gasped in wonderment at the gifts brought by Herr Drosselmeyer - especially the wooden Nutcracker.

The Columbia Figure Skating Club, founded 35 years ago, has been bringing Nutcracker on Ice to Howard County for 18 years, and Timlen has been director for the past five. This year's show, with 110 skaters, is the biggest one, she said. In past years, the cast size has been in the high 80s or low 90s, she said.

"We've grown," she said.

The show, which will be staged four times this weekend at the Columbia Ice Rink, is the only Nutcracker on Ice regularly performed in the Baltimore region, said Pat Muth, skate club founder and artistic director.

The Nutcracker, with its elaborate dance scenes, is an ideal venue for showcasing skaters of various ages and abilities. And as skaters gain experience, they have opportunities for bigger roles and solos.

Rachel Frank, 14, has been in four Nutcracker performances, but this year is her first with a solo part. "It's a little nerve-racking, but it's still fun," said the teenager, dressed in a green-and-orange clown costume.

The show is a lot of work for the performers, who have been rehearsing for more than six hours each Sunday since the end of October. The skaters first practice from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at The Other Barn, going through the motions without ice skates. Then they go to the ice rink for two more hours.

Most skaters in the show already adhere to a grueling training schedule to prepare for competitions.

Several of the skaters, including Sarah Yasenka, 13, recently returned from the Junior National competition in Salt Lake City. Sarah, who, along with Allison Timlen, will be the Snow Queen, practices every day after school at a rink in Laurel, said her mother, Sally Yasenka, the volunteer coordinator for the skating club.

Niyah Harris-Ellis, 10, will be a French doll in this year's show, her second Nutcracker. Rehearsals are time-consuming and challenging, she said, but worth the effort. "I get to perform and I get to hang out with my friends," she said.

Muth said she started skating as a young teen and founded the club in 1972. It has about 125 members. She began putting on an annual Nutcracker performance to raise money for ice time, she said. The club now puts on two shows a year - the Nutcracker in the winter, and a show in the spring, choreographed by Muth.

Preparations for the Nutcracker begin in July, when Muth starts casting the show.

"I sit down for hours," she said. "We all try to figure out who would be best for what part."

Some elements of the stage set and the costumes are handed down through the years, but the parents fill in the gaps.

"I learned how to sew once my daughter started getting all these parts," said Sally Yasenka.

Ice skaters belong to clubs to get ice time and to socialize with other skaters. They represent the club when they compete, though they might take lessons from coaches not affiliated with the club.

The Columbia Figure Skating Club is part of the Chesapeake Skating School, which provides lessons at the Columbia Ice Rink. Most of the skaters in the Columbia Figure Skating Club also skate in competitions.

"It's a ruthless sport, very competitive," said Sally Yasenka. The Nutcracker, she said, is fun partly because it gives the skaters a chance to perform without pressure. Plus, she noted, "they get to dress up."

Taylor Finn, 11, who plays the head doll and a party guest, said she likes wearing the outfits and the makeup that the Nutcracker requires. "You just get to go out there and have fun," she said.

Emma Eyes, 13, who plays a party guest and a clown, also skates competitively, but is happy to return to the ice Sunday afternoons for Nutcracker rehearsals.

"If you really like something like ice skating, it's kind of like everything about it is fun," she said.


What: The Columbia Figure Skating Club presents The Nutcracker on Ice.

When: Tomorrow, 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Where: Columbia Ice Rink, 5876 Thunder Hill Road, Columbia.

Tickets: $9.

Information: Columbia Figure Skating Club, 410-813-4026, or www.columbiafsc. mmwebserver.com.

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