BEMUS POINT - Early December is one of the busiest seasons of the year for the artistic community. It is part of our tradition that three gifts be an important part of the holiday's celebration, so this year, I have three events, each important to its own audience, which need to come your way now. Therefore, the Critical Eye risks seeing triple, to bring you accounts of artistic presentations, here in our community:
For nearly 60 years, performances of the ballet "Nutcracker" have been part of an American Christmas celebration. The ballet, which is full of magic, children, and tempting references to good things to eat was created in 1892, with music by Tchaikovsky and choreography begun by Marius Petipa, which had to be completed by his assistant, Lev Ivanov, when Petipa fell ill.
Adults and children from all around our community are poised to perform in the annual performance of the ballet 'Nutcracker,' at the Reg Lenna Civic Center next Saturday.
Since ballet has usually been treated as a sophisticated experience for adults, "Nutcracker" is often the first experience for many children of the graceful women of ballet, who seem to be blown on currents of air, rather than to move like a mere mortal, and the powerful leaps and turns of the men of ballet, who manage to be fiercely strong and beautifully graceful at the same time.
The ballet was first performed in our country at the New York City Ballet, in 1954, when their founder and principal choreographer, George Balanchine - an immigrant from the dance's native Russia - first performed it with his company. New Yorkers were enchanted and began to demand more and more performances, each year to the point that the company does a great many performances each Christmas season, and most of the tickets are sold out, as much as a year in advance.
Gradually visitors to the city, and audiences in large cities who were visited by touring performances by the City Ballet Company fell in love with the production, and yearned to offer it to audiences in their own sites. The ballet had a story which is related to the Christmas holiday, and is easy to follow, and which is colorful and entertaining. The music is generally appealing. The cast calls for a large number of youthful dancers, and gives them the opportunity, not just to run on and do a number and then depart, but to dance with the adults, which can teach them the dedication and the hard work which makes successful careers in dance.
Each company which began to produce versions of "Nutcracker" started with the original, Petipa/Ivanov choreography, factored in elements of Balanchine's original interpretation, depending on how many dancers they had available, how skilled those dancers were, the availability of an orchestra and the technical abilities of their local theaters, and a thousand more factors, including the tastes and expectations of local audiences.
Audiences in Hawaii found hula dancers added to their version, for example, while companies in Wyoming found a version of a rodeo in their "Nutcracker."
Young professional dancers joining professional companies frequently say they first saw ballet when taken by a parent or grandparent to see "Nutcracker," and it set a fire within them, to want to dance.
"Nutcracker" has a long history of performances in Jamestown. There was even a period in which two different companies each did a production of the ballet and we had a short period of years in which there were "Dueling Nutcrackers," in town. In recent years, Chautauqua Region Youth Ballet has presented the dance, adapted for performances by local folks at the Reg Lenna Civic Center by the company's director, Monika Alch. Ms. Alch is a retired ballerina, who danced professionally with companies in her native Austria and in several locations around the U.S.
This year, the company will perform the ballet on Friday, at 10 a.m., for an audience bused in by area schools. In the school production, some roles will be danced by understudies, while at both public productions, the original dancer will perform in those roles. The public performances will be next Saturday at 2 p.m.
Most years, CRYB has been able, through the generosity of various local businesses and sponsors, to hire a pair of professional dancers, from Balanchine's own company, in New York City, to dance the most demanding roles. This year, the professional dancers became unavailable at the last minute, leaving the company to literally search the nation for a professional pairing which knew the choreography to the Grand Pas de Deux, which ends the performance.
When no professionals were located, Ms. Alch was lucky to have available Madeline Jones. She is a 16-year-old, local student who in recent years has performed both the child lead, called Clara, and has understudied the professional dancers from New York who danced the leading role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. As understudy, she has danced the role at each year's school performance. This year, she will dance it at all three performances.
Talented ballerinas are rare treasures, but skilled male dancers are even more difficult to locate. To deal with that situation, Alch has adapted the story of the ballet slightly. In the ballet's story, the little girl, Clara, receives a nutcracker, carved and painted to resemble a soldier, as a Christmas present from her magical godfather, a man named Drosselmeyer. When her holiday guests leave, she creeps downstairs to play with her nutcracker and she finds that all her toys have come to life, and that mice have sneaked out of the woodwork to gnaw on the toys.
The Nutcracker takes command of the toys' fighting forces, but he is nearly overcome by the Mice's King. Clara courageously distracts the Mouse King, and gives the Nutcracker the opportunity to prevail. In reward for her courage, he places her in a magic sleigh and takes her out into the snow, and off to the magic Kingdom of Sweets, which is ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The Fairy commands all of her subjects to dance for Clara, and there follows a long list of short but exciting dances from many lands, by dancers in costume as candy canes, marzipan, ginger snaps, and more. Typically, Drosselmeyer disappears from the stage, after Clara and the Nutcracker head off into the snow. This year Clara's godfather, who will be danced by retired professional dancer Jordan Spencer, will reappear in the second act, where he will introduce the various performing acts, and will take part in the dancing, in the absence of the Cavalier, who is usually performed by the male professional guest artist.
When we spoke with the director, she admitted she has been "beside myself," with the need to re-choreograph and to change and to re-cast roles, since the loss of the guest artists, but she thinks audiences at this year's performances will find a beautiful experience with dance, all the same.
"Every year, we try to do something to make our production better," she told me. "This year we have new costumes for the angels, and new dresses for the little girls at the party which opens the ballet. In past years, local artist David Metzler has created a new sleigh for Clara's escape into the snow, and has built a new and more attractive box from which the ballerina doll dances, during the party scene. This year, he has built a new gift box for the soldier doll."
Because of our early deadline, Alch was still making changes and accommodations, but she was certain that the company will "do something really nice."
"Every year things crop up at the last minute and we have to deal with them. Children get sick and dancers injure themselves, and things happen which defy even the most elaborate planning," she said. "But, when the audience comes, the magic of the performance is going to be there, no matter what."
Since we probably won't be able to review the performance, due to our policy of not reviewing performers younger than college, I will now share with you the massive list of Chautauqua and Warren County residents who will bring this year's "Nutcracker" to life:
The dancing housemaids will be Rachel Corbelli, Lydia Everett, Kaitlin Healy, Lauren Hendrick, Madeline Jones, and Emily Rose Mager. Serving maids will be Anne Dolce and Joanne Taft.
Clara will be danced by Grace McMillan, with Maya Swanson taking the role in the school show. Zach Zuech will be Fritz, Clara's brother, and David Zuech and Melody Overend will be her parents.
Party girls will be Grace Cline, Emilee Shafer, Isyss Smith, JJ Moore, Madeleine Meenders, and Haven Sevenish. Party boys will be Jacob Sears, Parker Seymour, Joshua Skinner, Brett Svenson, Arley Culver and Maxwell Knight.
Party Moms will be Galena Duba, Hannah Pickreign, Jennifer Sears, and Jamie Smeragliuolo. Party Dads will be Spencer Eck, Andy Sears, Peter Walter, and James Weaver. Sue Spencer will lead the Grandmother's dance.
Jordan Spencer will dance as Drosselmeyer. Maya Swanson will perform as the Harlequin Doll, with Grace McMillan stepping in at the school performance. Cate Walter will dance as the Ballerina Doll, and Shawn Sprankle will be the Soldier Doll, with Liam Pickreign stepping in for the school show. The Party Pooch will be Rosa.
Sprankle will return as the Nutcracker, come to life. Melody Overend will be the Rat King, with her subjects performed by Olivia Beach, Rachel Culbertson, Mary Clementi, Grace Clementi, Nolah Hamilton, Peyton Joly, Gabriella Knight, Cadience Rapp, Angelina Teator, Zoe Struble, and Zoe Zuech.
Also, Rhiannon Borgardus, Jeniya Cromartie, Allyson Gabriella Demorest, Cecelia Eklum, Isabella Grijalva, Belle Johnson, Toreion Leeper, Mallory Lohnes, and Meicola Segre.
Toy soldiers will be Arley Colver, Lillian Ingrao, Cyrus Jones, Maxwell Knight, Liam Pickreign, Jacob Sears, Parker Seymour, Joshua Skinner, Brett Svenson, and Zach Zuech.
Guardian Angels will be danced by Emma Carlson, Maisy Chang, Natalie Corbelli, Zoe DiVincenzo, Ani Duffee, Brittney Hinson, JJ Moore, Alexandra Ridge, Tiara Skinner, Quinn Taylor, and Maddie Welsh.
The Snow Queen will be Lydia Everett, and her subjects will be Olivia Bacon, Izzy Balcom, Grace Carr, Josephine Corey, Cecelia Johnson, Madeleine Leenders, Ruby Schneider, Haven Sevenish, Alyssa Zuech, Emma Jane Anderson, Jennifer Barczak, Rachel Corbelli, Amelia Dolce, Lauren Hendrick, Lydia Everett, Kaitlin Healy, Emily Rose Mager, Anna Perniti, Gina Smeragliuolo, Megan Stefanik, and Caroline Walter.
The angels in the Land of Sweets will be Olivia Bacon, Izzy Balcom, Grace Carr, Josephine Corey, Cecelia John-son, Madeleine Leen-ders, Ruby Schneider, Haven Sevenish, Alyzza Zuech, Alexis Grijalva, Sophie Kreinheder, and Mallory Lohnes.
The Sugar Plum Fairy at all performances will be Madeline Jones. The Candy Canes will be danced by Gabriella Knight, Angelina Teator, and Zoe Zuech.
Dancing Chocolate will be Rachel Corbelli, Lydia Everett, and Lauren Hendrick. Chinese Tea will be Caroline Walter, supported by Grace Cline, Natalie Corbelli, Maddie Welsh, Sydney Wendel, Olivia Bacon, Izzy Balcom, Cecelia Johnson, Isyss Smith, and Alexis Grijalva.
Russian soloist will be Shawn Sprankle, surrounded by Liam Pickreign, Maisy Chang, Lillian Ingrao, Maya Swanson, Gracie McMillan, Quinn Taylor, Cate Walter, and Mackenzie Zuech.
The Merlaton will be danced by Kaitlin Healy, with Emily Rose Mager stepping in for the school show. Supporting them will be Emma Jane Anderson, Megan Stefanik, Caroline Walter.
The Arabian variation, which is often danced as a duet, will be performed as a solo, by Jennifer Barczak. Her supporters will be Emma Carlson, Amelia Dolce, Brittney Hinson, and Hannah Pickreign.
The Dew Drop will be Madeline Jones, and the Waltzing Flowers will be Emma Jane Anderson, Rachel Corbelli, Amelia Dolce, Lauren Hendrick, Lydia Everett, Kaitlin Healy, Emily Rose Mager, Anna Perniti, Gina Smeragliuolo, Megan Stefanik, Caroline Walter, and Sydney Wendel.
Mother Ginger will be Sue Spencer, and her Snaps will be danced by Allyson Dalton, Nolah Hamilton, Belle Johnson, Gabriella Knight, Ruby Schneider, Meicola Seagren, Jeniya Cromartie, Zoe DiVincinzo, Ani Duffee, Cecelia Johnson, Toreion Leeper, Alexandra Ridge, Emilee Shafer, and Tiara Skinner. Tumblers will be Sophie Kreinheder, Isabella Grijalva, Mallory Lohnes, and Grace Carr.
We know how important it is that children be recognized when they do something important and good, so we have typed all these names and proofread them twice. If we've left any name out or spelled anyone incorrectly, it was a fault not intended. Contact us and we will correct the error.