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Local youngsters audition for 'The Nutcracker'

Plenty of young girls dream of performing with a prestigious ballet company, and for about 50 of them from the greater Baltimore area the first step was Sunday.

During a marathon, multi-hour session at the Moving Company Dance Center in Cockeysville, the girls, and a couple of boys, auditioned to perform a version of the holiday classic "The Nutcracker" with the Moscow Ballet Company.

It was the 19th year that local ballet students have auditioned to perform with the Russian troupe.

The young dancers selected will perform alongside the professionals in the show, which is scheduled for Dec. 17 and 18 at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore.

All of the children, ages 7 to 16, came from area dance studios and have class and performance experience. The girls wore leotards, pink tights and buns.

"I saw the 'Nutcracker' when I was 7 and I knew I wanted to do that," said Kelsey Hummel, a 16-year-old from Cockeysville who has performed with the professional troupe for several years. "Now I can't watch it from the audience anymore."

Fellow returning performer Gracie Collins, a 15-year-old from Towson, led many of the routines during auditions. She said the dancers felt joy in seeing their own technique improve — and in seeing other "wide-eyed girls in the front row."

The older girls breezed through the routines, with perfect curtsies at the end and smiles all through. The younger ones peered over their shoulders or in the mirrors to ensure they were in the right position.

Gloria Lang, director of dance at Mercy High School — an all-girl, independent Catholic school in Baltimore — has chosen the dancers for the ballet company for all 19 years of the Moscow Ballet program, which aims to include local girls and boys on each stop of the national Christmastime tour of "The Great Russian Nutcracker."

Lang said most who audition make the cast alongside the 40 professional dancers because they have come prepared.

The students pay $10 to try out and $75 if chosen. The money helps pay the cost of instructors and expenses for Nataliya Miroshynk, a dance company soloist who confirms Lang's choices for parts — based on the youngsters' skill and height — and then leads the local dancers through the choreography.

The commitment on the part of the young dancers is considerable. Local dancers must attend four-hour rehearsals every Sunday. They practice only once with the professionals, on the day of the first show. The ballet company fits them for costumes.

"I tell her I see a little snowflake and she'll say 'yes' or 'no,'" said Lang of Miroshynk and the casting process.

"They all help form a beautiful, magical story," Lang said of the students.

Eight-year-old Shaynne Friday of Finksburg, a performance veteran after four years of classes, would be happy with any role in "The Nutcracker," the story about a girl who falls in love with a prince disguised as a nutcracker.

"The costumes are really pretty," Shaynne said about why she likes performing. "At first it's a little scary, but then it's really fun. It seems to go really quick."

Her mother, Tamie Mitchell-Friday, was a dancer and so was Shaynne's aunt. They both encouraged her to start ballet classes.

Dana Martin, co-owner of the studio hosting the auditions, said some of her students were auditioning. While most won't go on to professional dance careers, she said, she believes all of them benefit from taking part in performances at the Lyric.

They learn about commitment and gain confidence, as well as make friends, she said.

Said Martin: "They seem to see life in a different way afterward."


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