The stuff of dreams

The Baltimore Sun

The first time Jennifer Muccioli performed in The Nutcracker ballet she was 6 years old. As a member of the snow scene, she dreamed of a day when she would have a more prominent role, she said.

"I always wanted to do bigger parts in the ballet," said Jennifer, 14, a ninth-grader at Fallston High. "I often thought about what it would be like to get to do that."

After a seven-year hiatus, she is returning to the Lyric Opera House stage in Baltimore as a butterfly and a member of the Russian Variation, said Jennifer, who lives in Bel Air.

She will be performing as a children's cast member of the Moscow Ballet's traveling tour of the Great Russian Nutcracker.

The tour started Oct. 25 in Washington state and travels about 45,000 miles through 70 cities in the United States and six Canadian provinces.

Through an outreach program called Celebrating Children ... The Arts Can Make a Difference, children in each region are selected to appear in the ballet. The final performances will be held today at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore.

Auditions were held for the ballet at the Moving Company Dance Center in Cockeysville, on Oct. 11 and 12, for children ages 7 to 18, who are no taller than 5 feet, 5 inches and have at least two years of ballet instruction.

Fifty-four children were selected for parts. Jennifer was the only one selected from Harford County to dance in the performances.

She was selected to dance in the butterfly role and in the "Russian Variation," which typically brings the house down, said Gloria Lang, children's coordinator of one of Baltimore's two casts. Jennifer was selected because of her bigger-than-life stage presence, Lang said.

"Jennifer is incredibly motivated," Lang said. "She has a wonderful attitude, and you don't have to tell her twice. She has this beautiful sense of presentation. She knows how to stay in character and emulate the exact nuances of the choreography."

Jennifer began dancing when she was a little over a year old, she said. At about age 5, she began ballet at the Children's Dance Division in what is now Towson University. After four years, she transferred to the Rage Box Contemporary Dance Center in Forest Hill. The dance center is owned by her mother, Karen Muccioli, who earned a degree in dance performance, choreography and education at the university in 1981.

Jennifer said she has struggled through a back injury she suffered while doing gymnastics and from poor posture. Ballet has helped her a lot, she said.

"I don't get stage fright," she said. "I love the adrenaline dancing gives me. I get butterflies in my stomach, but when I get on stage and see the audience, I like to have all the shining eyes on me. I love it."

In addition to the Moscow Ballet's Nutcracker, Jennifer has danced in company and studio concerts and Jump Nationals, a competition held at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Although her schedule was busy, when Lang, the children's artistic director at the Moving Company Dance Center, contacted her mother to inform her of audition dates, Jennifer couldn't pass up the opportunity, she said.

"I knew that a lot of my friends from Towson were doing it," Jennifer said. "It was a lot of fun. I always wanted to get one of the older girls' roles. And I got the roles I wanted when I was little."

The experience was a little intimidating, she said. With only two years of pointe training, she arrived at the auditions and was competing against dancers with substantially more experience.

"There were girls with five or six years' experience dancing pointe," she said. "I took two pointe classes a week to try to get to their level. It was so much work. But I think I am doing well now."

Since October, she has practiced every Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Although her friends think it's all glamour and that she has a perfect life, she sets them straight about it, she said.

Regardless, her friends come to see her perform and they tell everyone at school about it, she said.

Her true motivation to dance isn't the limelight, she said, it's her love of dance.

"If you want to be any type of dancer, you have to have some ballet experience," she said. "I like that. I like how fluid ballet dancing is. A lot of people don't like ballet because of the music. But ballet can actually be danced with any type of music. I like the way it is so particular."

Her favorite part of The Nutcracker is the snow scene, she said without hesitation.

"At the end of the scene, paper snowflakes fall and there are all these little girls out there," she said. "It just looks really, really, cool."

When the curtain goes up at the opera house, she's always ready, she said. With a lot of family and friends coming to watch her, she wants to do her part to make it a memorable experience for everyone involved.

"I am really excited to be able to dance with my friends and to get to do the roles I always wanted to do," she said. "I really enjoy getting to see the Russians that I danced with when I was younger. I am just really excited."

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