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Waycaster, Delaney part of Nutcracker tradition

BEN HILLYER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Olivia Waycaster, left, and Madison Delaney will alternate the roles of Clara and Margaret during this year’s Natchez Ballet production of The Nutcracker.
BEN HILLYER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Olivia Waycaster, left, and Madison Delaney will alternate the roles of Clara and Margaret during this year’s Natchez Ballet production of The Nutcracker.

Olivia Waycaster and Madison Delaney aren’t scared to take the stage Thursday night to play the lead role in “The Nutcracker” — it’s the part they’ve been training for since they were 3 years old.

The now 12-year-old Natchez Ballet Academy dancers will alternate the roles of Clara and Margaret Thursday through Saturday for the annual performance.

Waycaster started dancing when she was 3, and she joined the cast of “The Nutcracker” the following year.

“I started out in the party scene, and then played angels and other parts,” she said while warming up for rehearsal Monday evening. “This is the biggest role I’ve had yet, though. It’s the lead.”

Delaney also started dancing when she was 3, but only recently joined the ballet academy and will perform in “The Nutcracker” for the first time this year.

“I’m pretty excited,” Delaney said. “It’s been fun so far.”

As the two dancers waited on the stage of the Natchez City Auditorium for rehearsal to begin, no second went to waste as the girls practiced their moves in sync.

Their mothers, Joann Waycaster and Sara Delaney, watched from the audience and recalled the day they broke the news to their dancers about the lead roles.

“They posted the roles late at night, so I woke her up in the middle of the night all excited,” Joann said, laughing. “I don’t think she was that excited then because I woke her up, but the next morning she was.

“It’s been all Nutcracker, all the time for the last three to four months. She’s wanted this role for the longest time, and she got it.

“She doesn’t seem nervous at all.”

The hard work and dedication put in by Waycaster, Delaney and all the dancers doesn’t come as a surprise to academy director Mignon Reid.

“We have a lot of talented kids in this town,” Reid said. “Those two are hard workers, and it’s amazing to see everyone grow over the years.”

Reid — who has directed the production for nine years — has seen plenty of dancers fill the shoes Waycaster and Delaney will wear this year.

But before she was director, Reid performed on the same stage during the first production of “The Nutcracker” in Natchez 29 years ago.

“It’s changed a lot since then,” Reid said. “When I danced in it, we would only do certain excerpts, so it wasn’t the whole production.”

The performance was at the Natchez City Auditorium, Reid said, for the first five years before moving to the auditorium at Natchez High School and eventually finding its more recent home at Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center.

“This is where it all started,” Reid said, as she looked around the inside of the city auditorium. “There’s really not a lot of changes we had to do here from Margaret Martin, though.”

A larger stage for performing and more seats for audience members to fill are a plus, Reid said.

The only changes to the production, which Reid said is an annual occurrence, come in the steps and moves the dancers will perform.

“A lot of these girls dance every year and their parents come every year, so we want to mix it up and keep it fresh and new for them,” Reid said. “That is my favorite thing to do — as long as they are done right and safe.”

Professional dancer Anthony Neumann originally of Rochester, Minn., has performed in the production for the last 18 years as the prince.

“Getting to work with the kids and help them learn over the years is just awesome,” Neumann said. “When people come to see the show, we don’t want to show them the same old show every year.

“We want to show them those awe-inspiring moves they’ve never seen before.”

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