Sweet suite: Holiday tradition offers valuable experience for young dancers

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For the ninth consecutive year, Arts for Lawrence is presenting a condensed version of “The Nutcracker Suite” featuring young dancers of varying experience levels.

Performances are at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 and 1 p.m. Dec. 16 at Arts for Lawrence’s Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave.

Co-director Cristina Pretorius said the dancers this year range from ages 5 to 16.

“We take children who have no experience,” she said. “Obviously, we love dancers who are trained, but we open our arms to any child who wants to participate and just experience the joy of telling a Christmas story through dance.”

Pretorius said she and co-directors Oybek Tashpulatov and Alexandra Harrill work together on this one performance each year because they love bringing the traditional Christmastime tale to life.

“What’s Christmas without ‘Nutcracker,’ right?” she said. “We wanted to provide the kids an opportunity to perform, and especially for the younger ones who haven’t had experience, they get to be part of the cast and learn and grow in their confidence and (work on) mastering choreography and music. It’s just a great tool to help kids be more creative.”

Pretorius said they shorten the show and customize it each year based on the abilities of the dancers who sign up.

“Right now, it’s a 45-minute show (with) no intermission,” she said. “It’s a great show for young audiences, because not all children have the attention span of sitting through a two-hour ballet, or even adults. We have the party scene, we have the waltz of the flowers, we have a Sugar Plum — it’s an abbreviated version, just to give you a taste of ‘The Nutcracker’ in under 45 minutes.”

The directors don’t have their own studio, but instead work with established dance studios in the greater Indianapolis area. This year, they are supported by Andrea Hagan of A-List Dance Center in Carmel. Pretorius said rehearsals started in August, and they rehearse just once a week.

“Usually, the older dancers come with training,” she said. “And then the younger ones, the mice and the angels, are usually new to dance. We just rehearse each part and then we string it together. By November, we’re putting the whole show together and rehearsing it from start to finish. So, it’s just dedicating time to each group and teaching them choreography and acting and just being part of the story. It’s mainly teaching them how to tell stories through ballet. So little by little, piece by piece, we put it together.”

The cast is small, with only 17 dancers. But that’s just about right for the Theater at the Fort stage, Pretorius said.

“It’s literally the most perfect setting for a Christmas ballet,” she said. “The setting, the theater is so quaint and just warm and welcoming — just perfect for ‘Nutcracker.’”

Lecia Floyd is Arts for Lawrence’s program manager. She said the annual performance has become a special tradition for the community to look forward to each year.

“Arts for Lawrence took stewardship of the Theater at the Fort in October of 2015, and the Nutcracker Suite, through a partnership with Cristina (Pretorius), was not only one of the first performances offered that year but has been the longest-running performance here, now in its ninth year,” she said.

Pretorius said they keep the set simple, focusing their efforts on the dance, which started as an opportunity for a few students to have another performance experience.

“As those girls grew, we ended up pulling in kids who didn’t have experience and it’s become a beautiful thing where we now have dancers who are trained alongside dancers who are experiencing dance and the arts for the very first time,” she said. “The thing they have in common is that they all love dancing, and they love being there. So, it makes it easy for us because we know their hearts are in it and they really want to be there.”

Pretorius said that because they partnered with A-List Dance Center, many of the performers this year hail from the Carmel area. In prior years, the performance has featured mostly Lawrence Township dancers.

“We feel very supported by the community,” she said. “A lot of the community comes out to see it — of course parents and families come out, (but) we have regulars that come as well.”

For tickets, visit artsforlawrence.org/tickets.

‘The Nutcracker’ origins

“The Nutcracker,” adapted by Alexandre Dumas Père and set to music composed for the story by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, debuted at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, a week before Christmas in 1892.

According to the official “Nutcracker” website, nutcracker.com, it took another 40 years before the classic ballet premiered in western countries.

“The Christmas ballet was first performed outside of Russia in England in 1934,” the website stated. “Its first United States performance was in 1944 by the San Francisco Ballet.”

The ballet didn’t start to truly gain popularity until after it was performed in New York City in the mid-1950s.

“The Nutcracker Suite” is loosely based on a story by German writer ETA Hoffmann called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”


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