Ballet academy’s Nutcracker takes the stage tonight

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 20, 2008

NATCHEZ — With just one look inside the Stahlbaum’s annual Christmas Eve party, it is easy to see that a magical night is in the making.

But for Clara Stahlbaum, just how magical the night will become is unimaginable.

When dancers from Natchez Ballet Academy take to the stage tonight to tell the story of Clara’s magical journey, it will be the culmination of months of rehearsals.

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Performances of the famous holiday ballet are at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center at 64 Homochitto St. Tickets for the performances can be purchased at Natchez Ballet, One-of-a-Kind Gifts or Sun, Moon & Star. They are $7 for orchestra seating and $10 for balcony.

Nutcracker director Mignon Reid said the annual performances put people in the holiday spirit.

“It is the start to the Christmas season,” Reid said. “People come in and watch and leave ready for Christmas.”

Clara, danced on alternating nights by Caitlyn Upton and Hannah White, receives a magical nutcracker from her uncle at the Christmas party.

For Upton and White, the role of Clara is one they have been working for.

Upton, 12, has been taking ballet at Natchez Ballet since she was 3 years old. She said dancing the part of Clara is like a dream come true.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. “I’ve wanted this part for a while.”

And, even though she has only been dancing since she was 9, White shares the same enthusiasm about the principle role.

“I always wanted to be a ballerina,” she said. “It’s fun to learn new things.”

During the party, the nutcracker that Clara loves is broken. The nutcracker is repaired by the same uncle that gave it and placed under the family Christmas tree.

And that is where the magical journey begins. Clara is swept away to the Land of Snow and then the Land of Sweets.

In the Land of Snow, Clara comes face-to-face with the Snow Queen, danced by Alexa Mallory.

The 16-year-old from Vidalia has been dancing for 13 years for Natchez Ballet. She took last year off from performing, but now can’t imagine doing anything else.

“It’s beautiful,” Mallory said of ballet. “I just feel free (when I’m dancing)”

Preparations for the Christmas ballet began back in August, but Mallory said she hasn’t thought twice about the months of works she has put in.

“It’s finally here,” Mallory said. “When you are working toward it you are freaking out, but when you dance it is all worth it.”

Reid said the preparation for the production has been grueling, but the process was made easier by a willing and dedicated cast.

“My girls are awesome,” she said. “I don’t know if it is just because I’ve had more experience as a director or if it is the girls that I have, but everything has come together quite nicely. They have really worked hard.

“This is my fourth year as director, and this has been the best cast I’ve had.”

Next stop on Clara’s magical journey is the Land of Sweets, the home of the Sugarplum Fairy. Catherine Myer, 15, will dance the part of the Sugarplum Fairy, alternating nights with Molly Feltus.

Myer, who has 13 years ballet experience, said, despite the hours of work put in each week, dancing has a calming effect on her.

“It’s a big stress relief,” she said. “Performances are stressful, but dancing is relaxing.

“You can’t think of them as performances. You just have to dance.”

Myer, who is dancing the part of the Sugarplum Fairy for the second year, will also perform the Arabian dance.

Myer has had three years of preparation for the Arabian dance, but that still doesn’t help her nerves.

“I’m more nervous about dancing the Arabian than I am the Sugarplum Fairy,” she said. “It is just a really hard dance.”

The four performances of the Nutcracker will be a big pay off for the work the performers have put in, but Mallory and Myer said the real pay off comes when they see the faces of younger dancers.

“They look up to you,” Myer said. “I’m setting an example for them to show them that they can work up to (dancing the part of the Sugarplum Fairy).”

Mallory said she has learned discipline and dedication through her years in ballet, and hopes she is teaching the young dancers the same.

“I like to see the faces of the little girls,” she said.

Both girls have danced in eight different “Nutcrackers” with Natchez Ballet. And for Myer, her first performance doesn’t seem like it was that long ago.

“I still remember being an angel,” she said. “Everyone starts as an angel.”