Ballet students get professional experience during holiday season
Every holiday season, area studios partner with professional companies to give students the opportunity to perform alongside experienced dancers in variations of the classic “Nutcracker” ballet.
“I did it last year, and it's really cool to see them dancing. It was amazing, how they can dance so well,” said Presley Steinhoff, 10. “It makes me want to do it more.”
For about 13 years, En Pointe Danse in Chagrin Falls has partnered with Talmi Entertainment to bring a production of “Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet” to Cleveland.
“They get a chance to be on stage and be in a ‘Nutcracker’ that they've seen all their lives,” said Gail Friedberg, the owner of the studio.
Through the Dance With Us program, En Point Danse serves as a host studio where local ballet students audition and learn dances before performing with the traveling company when it is back in town.
“It's a great opportunity for us to open our stage to local dancers,” said Alex Ludwig, director of Talmi Entertainment’s studio partnerships, which take place in cities around the country. “The kids really are the heart of the show, and it's fun for us in each market to feel a little bit of home because we have this great cast of kids that join us.”
Roles are given to students based on availability level and age during auditions at the host studio. Young, new dancers may get the roles of mice or party children, while older, experienced dancers receive more involved roles such as variation dancers who represent different countries.
Being a variation dancer is a big deal because there are less dancers on stage, said student Katie Spellacy, 14. She is a Slavic variation dancer in “Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet!” this year.
“When I was a mouse, you were just in a line and followed the person in front of you, so it was a lot more simple,” she said. “But now you’ve got to know everything, because there's only three other girls, so you’ve got to be a leader.”
Bigger roles can be intimidating, but they also lead to improvement, said Abby Steffee, 18. She has been involved in “Nutcracker” for three years and progressed from the role of party child to variation dancer. This year, she is a Chinese variation dancer.
“It definitely puts more pressure on you, but I think it's helped me grow in my dancing because it’s just something to look forward to,” she said. “It helps make the journey worth it.”
Dancers in these roles have more chances to interact with the professionals, which has also helped her refine her skills, Steffee added.
“I've talked with them and warmed up with them a little bit,” she said. “They help teach you little ways of doing things, little tips and tricks.”
Many of the professional dancers also come from different countries, giving En Pointe Danse students the opportunity to interact with international dancers.
“A small studio like us, we don't have many professionals to look up to,” Emily Gasser, 16, said. “To hear international people speak so seriously of ballet, it's an inspiration.”
At the Hudson Conservatory of Ballet, students from the recreational and pre-professional divisions of the studio make up most of “The Nutcracker” cast. But for the past three years, professionals from the American Ballet in New York have danced the Nutcracker and Sugar Plum Fairy roles in its productions.
“It's super exciting for the kids to see these beautiful professionals from an internationally renowned company,” said Hudson Conservatory of Ballet Executive Director Sunita Joshi. “They do meet-and-greets, they take pictures, they answer questions. There are a lot of great dance companies in this area, but for them to see the bigger picture really opens their eyes to what's possible.”
While the studio’s “Nutcracker” performances are over for this year, the professionals interact with students throughout the year.
“When they came in this past summer, they got to do private lessons with some of the students. They taught classes,” she said. “They get to know them even on breaks from ‘Nutcracker.’”
Similarly, Cleveland Ballet gives its students the chance to dance with members of its own professional company during “The Nutcracker.”
“There's more for student dancers to do in ‘Nutcracker’ than almost any other ballet,” said Cleveland Ballet Interim Executive Director Howard Bender. “Getting the kids through the discipline of rehearsals, having them side by side with the dancers and watching what they do, that's an invaluable experience for a young artist.”