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Local talent abounds as ‘The Nutcracker’ takes to the stage this December


Carol Bowman Academy of Dance students performing in the 2016 Nutcracker performance. [Photo Credit: John D. Solodar]

Nothing says the holidays quite like going to see a live production of “The Nutcracker.” Fortunately, the classic holiday ballet is being performed at a number of different venues again this year, starring local ballerinas, perhaps even one you know.

This is the 17th year for the Saint Louis Ballet to perform their regional rendition of “The Nutcracker,” which will be held at The Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of UMSL. One hundred students from the Saint Louis Ballet School in Chesterfield will be showcased alongside the 24 professional dancers from the Saint Louis Ballet Company. Gen Horiuchi serves as executive and artistic director.

Local students, ranging from 8 to 18 years old, will perform in the 11 matinee and evening performances between opening night Dec. 15 and the final performance on Dec. 23. Unique to this production is the Sugar Plum Fairy Luncheon prior to the matinee performances on Dec. 16 and 17. Children will be visited by the dancers with autograph and photo opportunities. Tickets can be purchased online at www.stlouisballet.org/nutcracker.

For “Nutcracker” enthusiasts who prefer an international rendition, The Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” is making St. Louis one of its stops. Celebrating its 25th-anniversary tour this holiday season, the Moscow Ballet is touring in over 100 cities in the United States and Canada, with two shows at The Fabulous Fox Theatre on Dec. 23. Performing alongside the professional company are 110 student ballet dancers from across Illinois and Missouri, including dancers from Dance Inc. in Ellisville and The Dance Academy and M & M Dance Academy studios, both in Manchester.

The Moscow Ballet’s Dance with Us program brings local hopefuls the opportunity of auditioning, rehearsing and performing with the international company. While Moscow has returned to St. Louis each holiday season for the last several years, performing at The Touhill and Peabody Opera House, its popularity peaked when it changed venues to The Fabulous Fox Theatre approximately four years ago. New this year is a second St. Louis show, which gives more children an opportunity to take part.

“That was always the most difficult part – we couldn’t offer all the auditioning dancers a role,” explained Barb Craig, the director of the Dance Project St. Louis and owner of SkyStone. “With the addition of the matinee show, we could accommodate twice the number of dancers.”

Hosting weekly rehearsals is SkyStone Conservatory of the Arts with Jen Medina as choreographer and co-director. During auditions and helping to cast individual roles, Medina was accompanied by Maria Morari, who premieres with Moscow Ballet this year. Student dancers will dance the roles of snow sprites, party guests and mice, as well as some more technically difficult roles for the more experienced local dancers. Tickets are available at the Fox Box Office or online at www.fabulousfox.com/events.

New to holiday scene this year is M &M Dance Academy, who will be debuting its performance of “The Nutcracker” on stage at the Chesterfield Family YMCA’s Community Theatre at noon and 4 p.m. on Dec. 16. Approximately 50 students, age 7 to 18, were selected during auditions held in September.

Owner and Artistic Director Megan Leuchtmann invited alumni to join the cast this year in the roles of party parents, a special opportunity to welcome back former students.

“Our students are dedicated. These rehearsals do not replace normal dance classes nor the winter showcase we offer,” explained Leuchtmann. “For the last three years, we have had students dance in the Moscow Ballet. We even have one student dually cast in the Moscow Ballet performance and ours this year.”

Tickets can be purchased for $7 by visiting www.mandmdance.com in advance or for $10 at the door.

Another longstanding St. Louis tradition is “The Nutcracker” performed by the Carol Bowman Academy of Dance [CBA] in Chesterfield. Unique to CBA is a one-hour narrated performance to be held on Dec. 3 at the Chesterfield Family YMCA’s Community Theatre with a matinee showing at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Bowman admits she did not intend for this to be an annual performance, but after 14 consecutive years, it has become a staple event on the dance studio’s calendar. With the narration, it is certainly a family-friendly event. Tickets for the YMCA shows are available for $9 and can be obtained by contacting the dance studio at www.carolbdance.com.

Bowman said the students also will be performing their “Nutcracker” at the Fountains of West County Senior Living facility. “This gives our talented dancers extra opportunities to perform something they have worked so hard on for months,” Bowman said. “Having done this before, we know the residents love it, too!”

The upper-level ballet students are automatically cast in the show and begin their rehearsals in August. The younger students auditioned in September. About 40 students were cast, ranging from 6 to 17 years old. Fifteen-year-old Caitlynn Sigman and 16-year-old Keridan Gossrau are students at CBA and have been cast in the local production since they were 8 years old. This year, Sigman will be performing in the “Maid’s Gallop,” “Waltz of the Flowers,” “Chinese Tea” and “Hot Chocolate from Spain” dance sequences. Her favorite role over the years is dancing in “Coffee from Arabia.”

Katie Solodar [left] and Keridan Gossrau as candy canes in a Carol Bowman Academy of Dance production of “The Nutcracker.” [Photo credit: John D. Solodar]

“I love the unique movements and fluid motions. It’s amazing how each dancer can be doing something different, but the dance still captures a real sense of harmony,” Sigman said. “I am looking forward to dancing in all of these pieces, but I am most excited for ‘Hot Chocolate from Spain.’ Our teacher has incorporated a lot of fast-paced and fun moves into the dance, and I think it will look great on stage.”

This year, Gossrau is cast as the Mouse Queen and also will perform in “Hot Chocolate from Spain,” “Tea from China,” and as a flower.

“My favorite role I have ever been is ‘[Waltz of the] Snowflakes’ because I love the music and the choreography that I performed that year,” Gossrau said. “There are a lot of reasons I continue to do the ‘Nutcracker’ every year. One of the reasons I continue to do the show is because of the all the people that are involved in it.

“The teachers are amazing and I look forward every year to ‘Nutcracker’ because of them.  ‘Nutcracker’ has become such a big part of my life, and I couldn’t imagine not doing it every year.”

Sigman shared similar sentiments.

“The close family that we’ve built at the studio is so fun, and we all really support each other in order to make each performance our new best. I think our chemistry offstage really shows on stage,” Sigman said. “We have some fun surprises this year, so I’m really excited for everyone to come and see it!”

Marley Meinking as the Allegro Doll in a Carol Bowman Academy of Dance production of “The Nutcracker.”

 

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