In just a week, local folks can see the stage of the Reg Lenna Civic Center come alive with graceful snowflakes, waltzing flowers and a sugar plum which will literally dance in your memory for days to come.
The Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet and its ancestor companies have been performing the holiday ballet ''Nutcracker'' for many decades, now. Each year, the production has grown and changed, as the company has made use of the assets of our community, until the coming performance promises to be literally, a feast for the eyes and the ears.
We want to give you the facts about the production, and how and when you can attend it. Then we want to share with you the things I have learned from the company's artistic director, Monika Alch, and from one of the professional soloists who is coming from New York City Ballet to perform a leading role in the production.
Gina Smeragliuolo dances the lead in the Flower variation with the Chautauqua Region Youth Ballet, which will perform the ballet “Nutcracker” next weekend at the Reg Lenna Civic Center.
I think you'll find that there is much to anticipate.
''Nutcracker'' is a ballet, set to music especially created to be danced, by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The story upon which it is based is taken from the short story ''The Nutcracker and the Mouse King'' by German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann.
The original choreography was by famed Russian choreographer Marius Petipa, and it was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892. The ballet spread to Western Europe in the 1930s and to the United States in the 1940s. George Balanchine, one of the great choreographers of history and a co-creator of the New York City Ballet, found that the ballet had both the magical qualities to enchant young audiences, yet both the literary quality and the technical dance demands to challenge dancers and to charm adult audiences as well.
He is usually credited with the fact that the work has become a staple of American dance companies, anticipated with enthusiasm throughout the year.
The ballet is now performed all around the world, and local choreographers have adapted it to the number and the skill sets of the dancers which each company has available to it, and the budget and technical facilities of the companies which are performing the work.
Monika Alch, artistic director of CRYB and a former dancer with a number of major companies, is the choreographer of the local production. She has, over the years, allowed some of her more talented students to have an experience with choreographing one or more variations within the ballet.
This year, the company has won support from the Sheldon Foundation of Jamestown, and from M&T Bank, to offer performances by professional dancers in the two leading roles. Bringing in the professionals adds an opportunity for the student dancers who make up the majority of the company's memberships to learn about dance as a profession, and to see the possibilities available to them if they continue to study and to practice.
Dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy will be Amanda Weingarten, recently a soloist with the Miami City Ballet. The dancer recently retired from her company, to pursue a law career, as a student at Fordham University.
Dancing as her Cavalier will be Robert Fairchild of New York City Ballet, where he is a principal dancer. We had a chance to do a brief interview with him, which we'll share with you soon.
A third professional who will be performing in the local production will be Jordan Spencer of Warren, Pa., who will be dancing the role of Drosselmeyer, the magical godfather of the little girl whose bravery in support of her favorite toy is the device which propels the ballet from a staid story ballet into a magical wonderland.
There will be three performances by the company at the Civic Center. Friday at 10 a.m., the company will do a performance for students from area schools. Tickets for that performance have been sold out for some time now. In the school production, the principal roles will be danced by local dancers rather than by the professionals.
The two public performances will be next Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for the general public, and $12 for students, senior citizens, and children. Tickets in the loge, the front few rows of the balcony, are $22 regardless of age.
Purchase them from the box office of the Civic Center, either in person or at their website, at www.reglenna.com/tickets. Reserve tickets by telephone at 484-7070.
For those unfamiliar with Jamestown, the Reg Lenna Civic Center is located on East Third Street in downtown Jamestown, near the intersection of Spring Street.
Parents with young children may be interested to know that the company has invited them to enjoy a tea party with costumed dancers from the company at the beautiful Sheldon House, at the intersection of Lakeview Avenue and Falconer Street on the north side of Jamestown.
That will be held at 1 p.m. this afternoon. Admission is $15 for one adult and one child, plus $5 for each additional child in the party. Phone 664-9766 for reservations. The release does not say whether ticket purchase is possible at the door of the event.
One of the treats of any year is the opportunity to discuss this year's production with the artistic director of CRYB.
Monika Alch began dance lessons at the age of 4, in her native Vienna, Austria. Her teachers have included Antoine Dolin, Jerome Robbins and Alicia Markova, and she has taken dance classes with Rudolf Nureyev, Eric Bruhn and Milorad Miskovitch.
This will be her 12th year as director and principal choreography adapter of a CRYB production of ''Nutcracker.'' As a professional dancer, she has performed nearly all the available roles in productions of the holiday ballet, although curiously, she was never cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The company which she directs includes dancers who range in age from very young children, up through high school, and occasionally older dancers with a history of performing with the company joining in, as well. Adults from the community are often used in roles involving relatively little or no dancing, and more experienced dancers are used in roles as available.
One of the great challenges for her has been the curiously American attitude that dance is not something for boys to do. I have visited schools in Europe where classical and folk dancing are part of the physical education program and participated in by boys and men of all types, but in a local production, male participation must be especially encouraged.
''We have five young men among the actual dancers,'' she told me recently. She points with special pride to Shawn Sprankle, a student at Jamestown Community College, who participated in the 2010 production as one of the parents in the party scene, which opens the ballet.
''Shawn enjoyed himself, and was impressed by the dedication and the skill of the dancers, so he has been working with us, and will be performing the role of the living Nutcracker in the battle between the toy and the army of mice, which is a highlight of the first act. He will also dance the role of the soldier at the opening party, and the Russian solo in the second act,'' she told me.
Each year, the company tries to improve and update their costumes and scenery. Among the new things to see will be an updated sleigh, to carry Clara and the Nutcracker Prince off to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy. It is being designed by artist David Metzler.
''This year's company of dancers, performing behind the principals, will be the youngest we have ever had. Most of them are ages 12 to 13,'' Ms. Alch said. ''Madi Jones, who will be dancing the leading role of the Sugar Plum Fairy at the school production on Friday morning, is the youngest dancer we have ever had performing the role. She's only 14, but she has spent two summers taking classes at Saratoga, and we think she does a fine job in the role.''
Another special quality of this year's production will be twin brothers who will alternate in the role of Fritz, the naughty brother of Clara, the little girl whose receipt of the magical nutcracker is at the core of the plot. James and Peter Gocke will be tormenting Kaitlin Healy at alternating performances.
''The company is working hard, and everything is falling into place,'' Ms. Alch said. ''We're certain it will be a delight for the audiences, and a wonderful learning opportunity for the dancers as well.
Coming from New York City Ballet, Robert Fairchild will dance the role of the Cavalier who partners the female lead, the Sugar Plum Fairy, in the Grand Pas de Deux which concludes the ballet, and who also dances some dazzling solos of his own.
The dancer was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he began dancing at the age of 4, and began performing as a professional at the age of 10. He told us that he has never been to Western New York, yet, but his sister, Megan Fairchild is also a Principal Dancer with City Ballet, and has danced the Sugar Plum Fairy in previous productions here in town. ''She told me that performing with CRYB is a blast, and said she knew I'd love it,'' he said.
''Principal,'' by the way, is the highest of the three traditional ranks of dancers within a professional company. The lower ranks are Corps Member and Soloist.
I asked the young dancer how he came to be dancing in Jamestown. He said that he is friends with Daniel Ulbricht, another principal dancer with NYCB. ''Daniel has performed and taught quite often in Chautauqua and in Jamestown, and has danced the lead in ''Nutcracker'' in Jamestown more than once. The company invited him to return in the role, but he had another commitment, so he suggested that they contact me. I can't wait!''
We wondered if he had encountered either Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux or Patricia McBride, both former stars of City Ballet, who head up the Chautauqua School of Dance. He said that, in fact, he had performed in Bonnefoux's latest choreography for New York City Ballet, a work titled ''Two Birds with the Wings of One.'' He added, ''What an incredibly nice man.''
''Nutcracker'' has been part of the dancer's experience since his early youth. He was cast as bratty Fritz, and danced the role for four consecutive years, ''Because I didn't grow any taller for a while.'' One year he played brother to his own sister.
Fairchild's history with the New York company has included a number of roles in the holiday production He has been a party parent, one of the mice who make war on the toys, has danced both the lead and as a supporting dancer in the Spanish variation, donned the giant Marie Antoinette wig to play Mother Ginger, and has performed the lead, as the Cavalier. This year, he's trying out the role of a candy cane.
Because the music to ''Nutcracker'' can become a bit too sweet, and because it is produced so often and for so many performances, some dancers develop an aversion to it. I asked if he shared that.
He replied that the annual productions are a holiday tradition, and he says he truly loves it, although if he hears the music before Halloween, in a given year, it can cause a touch of nausea.
We wondered about coming into an established company, as he will be doing with CRYB, and dealing with a different stage and different technical equipment. The dancer replied that he finds it a bit daunting, being the new guy in town, and he has encountered companies who were less welcoming than others, but in general, whenever these collaborations are a celebration of dance, he finds them exciting.
Does he have admired role models in his career? He said Gene Kelly, and one of his teachers, Peter Boal, were especially inspirational.
Regular readers of this column know that I have a great interest in the relationship between performers in all of the arts and their audiences. Some say they perform the same, whether they are alone on the stage, or the house is filled with members of the audience. Fairchild said that for him, there would be no reason for him to do what he does without the audience.
''It's all about them,'' he said. ''You are all listening to the same piece of music, and I'm presenting my interpretation of it. It's magic,'' he said.
We interview a great many people in a given year, and few are as bright, enthusiastic and articulate. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing him dance, and I'm certain you will enjoy it as much as I will. And, we only have a week to wait.
Ask nearly any reporter and he'll tell you that listing performers is a difficult and risky business. With an apology to anyone whose name gets omitted or placed in the wrong role or spelled creatively, let's have a go at it all the same, keeping in mind that some roles weren't finalized at the time of this writing. Duplications were simply missed by mistake.
Young people who do wonderful things deserve all the attention we can give them.
James and Peter Gocke, Kaitlin Healy, Jamie Smeragliuolo, Elizabeth Schmitz, Jordan Spencer, Isabelle Meyers, Maya Swanson, Quinn Taylor, Sydney Wendel, Ani Duffee, Grace McMillan, Leilani Foster, Mackenzie Zuech, Brennan Constantino, Liam Pickreign, Peter Barry, Katie Baudo, Kortney Young, Rebecca Josephson, Melody Overend, Ned Baudo, David Zuech, Amelia Dolce, Anjali Ozra, Anna Paterniti, Emma Anderson, Hannah Anderson, and Sarah Hadley.
Also, Alison Barry, Amelia Duffee, Hannah Griffith, Lauren Hendrick, Megan Stefanik, Shawn Sprankle, Melody Overend, Alyzza Zuech, Cecelia Eklum, Cecelia Johnson, Isyss Smith, J.J. Moore, Sabrina Hallberg, Saige Croce, Alyssa Haskins, Annabella Prieto, Arrington Restivo, Faith Long, Madisson Ottaway, Olivia Bacon, Ani Duffee, Brennan Constantino, Elisabeth Meyer, Ella Smith, Justice Edens, Kate Barry, Zoe Divencenzo, Emma Gocke, and Kortney Young.
Also, Cate Walter, Elisabeth Meyer, Grace Cline, Maisy Chang, Emily Rose Mager, Isabel Bursch, Lydia Everett, Madi Jones, Rebecca Josephson, Sarah Gocke, Lydia Everett, Gina Smeragliuolo, Sydney Wendel, Len Barry, Maya Swanson, and Natalie Corbelli.
Best wishes to all.
The Buffalo Philharmonic and the Philharmonic Chorus will perform Handel's ''Messiah'' at St. Joseph's Cathedral in downtown Buffalo tomorrow evening at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $20 and may be purchased by phone at 885-5000 or by computer at www.BPChorus.org.
The Philharmonic invites the public to a holiday performance featuring recording artist Kenny Rogers at 8 p.m. on Dec. 21. Tickets are $65 and $80.
Other seasonal performances will include a concert of Baroque music, featuring the Vivaldi Guitar Concerto, featuring soloist Jason Vieaux, which will be performed this evening at 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.
Dec. 8 at 10:30 a.m., Dec. 9, at 8 p.m. and Dec. 10, at 2:30 p.m., hear the orchestra's traditional concert of holiday pops.
Dec. 14 at 8 p.m., hear the music organization Celtic Woman perform with the symphony orchestra, at 8 p.m.
Dec. 16 and 17, hear the orchestra's annual classical holiday concert, conducted by JoAnn Falletta.
Dec. 18, young audiences are invited to a holiday concert, featuring an opportunity to meet with Santa in the Mary Seaton Room, following the concert. It begins at 2:30 p.m.
The orchestra performs in Kleinhans Music Hall, at 3 Symphony Circle, in downtown Buffalo.
For specific information or to order tickets, phone 885-5000 or go to the orchestra's website at www.bpo.org.
Now through Dec. 18, Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre Company will repeat last season's wildly popular production of James Joyce's holiday story ''The Dead.''
Contrary to the grim title, the script is a moving and memorable musical show about three generations of an Irish family, gathering at an aunt's home in Dublin to celebrate the holidays.
The company performs in the Andrews Theatre, at 625 Main St., in the downtown Buffalo Theater District. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30, with additional performances at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. This afternoon's performance is ''pay what you can.'' Tickets range in price from $15 to $42, and may be purchased in person at the theater, depending on availability. They may be reserved in advance by phoning 853-4282 or by computer at www.irishclassicaltheatre.com.