By Melanie J. Knox, Page Editor
The dancers move lightly, heads up, eyes straight ahead, glancing occasionally at the wall-to-wall mirrors.
Anslee Craig and Andrea Edwards, both ACU students, push themselves up the tip-toe of their “point shoes,” finally balancing and gracefully raising their arms.
“It doesn’t look that hard,” Craig said laughing. “But it is.”
Within about 20 minutes, all of the dancers have broken into a sweat, in spite of the fact that they looked like they were flitting around on unseen wings.
“The hardest part is making it look easy,” Edwards confirmed. “That’s the magic of it. It should look like everyone can do it, when in reality, very few can.”
“Being on your toes for so long is very challenging, especially doing a bunch of lifts,” Craig said. “It doesn’t look that hard, but Andrea and I were talking about how strong your back has to be, at times curved like a banana, to hold the leg up high.”
Craig and Edwards are dancing two lead roles, the Dewdrop Fairy and the Snow Queen, in this year’s 15th annual local performance of the Nutcracker ballet at the Paramount Theatre Nov. 22-24. Tickets are currently on sale and only $10 for a student.
The Nutcracker Ballet is based on the book, `The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, by E.T.A. Hoffman, and music by Tchaikovsky.
In the story, Clara and Fritz, two children, receive gifts from their uncle. Fritz is jealous of Clara’s gift, a Nutcracker, and breaks it. After the family goes to sleep, Clara sneaks into the kitchen to check on her Nutcracker and he comes to life. Even stranger things follow, such as the battle with an army of mice and journeys to the Land of Snow and the Land of Sweets.
“The Nutcracker delights both children and adults,” Gore said, delight in her own voice. “It’s a timeless ballet that anyone can enjoy, and most people, even those who have never been introduced to ballet, will have at least seen that one.”
The set literally sparkles with glitter and color, not to be outdone by the colors and sparkles on the costumes of the dancers, and when the music reaches the ears of the audience, the entire performance seems to radiate magic.
Craig, during a break, is immediately surrounded by some of the younger aspiring ballerinas whom she teaches in a ballet class. With her short, flowing pink skirt, a crown of flowers, and covered in glitter, she looks like every little girls’ fantasy doll.
Craig began dancing at the age of three, and performed in the first Nutcracker, 15 years ago as a mouse. Edwards has wanted to be a ballerina since the age of three and began dancing late at age nine. She has performed in the Nutcracker in several roles, including two years as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“It’s good to have older dancers who are college age,” said director and teacher Nancy Gore. “A lot of our girls are high school so it’s nice to have some maturity. Of course they have also performed more, and are certainly very strong. They work hard, you don’t have to remind them, because they do that anyway.”
Ballet is a “total body, every muscle thing,” Edwards said.
Every role is double or triple cast, and 140 total dancers will perform. Craig and Edwards were chosen by audition from more than 100 people by a California judge.
“It’s a very strong show this year,” Gore said confidently. “Everybody that is in a lead role has worked really hard and doing a very good job and we just hope that we all stay well and healthy.”
“We’re like a family up there,” Craig said with sincerity. “Being at rehearsals for long periods of time, we get so close, even though a lot are younger than me.”
Edwards agreed. “Everyone is really, really friendly. It’s the nicest company I’ve ever danced with. If you get a part, girls are happy for you instead of wanting to jump down your throat.”
The sense of family is evident during the rehearsal breaks. As Gore compliments dancers on what they did well, the other girls break into spontaneous applause, smiles on every face.
This week, the cast is rehearsing extra hard, having already put several weeks of hard rehearsal behind them.
“This week has been a killer,” Craig sighed. “We’ve been at the Paramount rehearsing until midnight.”
Gore said that the Paramount is a beautiful theater and they love performing there.
“It’s a little small backstage and main stage, but our background scenery and pieces are designed for the theatre. So if you are standing in the lobby and you look through to Act I of the Nutcracker, it looks like it [the theatre] is a part of that scene,” she smiled as she gestured at the word picture she had just painted.
Four male guest artists are performing this year, one from Tennessee, two from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, one from Maryland. All are in their 20’s and 30’s and will be performing some of the male lead roles.
Craig points to one in tennis shoes dancing with a girl in a glittering purple tutu.
“Wait til you see him really dance,” she said. “He’s amazing.”
Seats are already scarce, and all performances are usually a sell-out event.
“The community always responds very well, and we have an excellent turnout,” Gore said. “It’s a real fun evening. Get dressed up a little bit, go to the Paramount, and enjoy the ballet.”
Edwards and Craig had the same thing to say about the Nutcracker: “It gets me in a Christmas-y mood! It’s tradition!”