Ready for the 'Nutcracker'

Friday, December 19, 2003

Most traveling ballet companies that tour with the "Nutcracker" during the holidays bring their own young dancer to perform the important role of Marie (named Clara in some versions). The Minnesota Ballet does not bring a Marie, instead presenting two local girls with the rare opportunity to dance the sugar plum role.

The ballet company performed "The Nutcracker" for schoolchildren Thursday and this afternoon. The company will give three more performances for the public tonight and Saturday.

Two different casts have been assembled for the run to give more local children a chance to participate. The local members of the cast total 67 and include university students and younger dancers from Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Sikeston, Mo., Anna-Jonesboro, Ill., Perryville, Mo., and Advance, Mo.

Two Cape Girardeau teenagers are dancing the Marie role in the performances to be presented this week at Academic Auditorium. Caroline Crosson, 14, a freshman at Notre Dame Regional High School, danced the role with the A cast Thursday and will again at 7:30 tonight and at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Anne-Marie Bernhardt, 15, a freshman at Central High School in Cape Girardeau, will dance the role with the B cast in performances today for schoolchildren and at noon Saturday for the public.

Crosson, the daughter of Julie and Clay Crosson, moved to Cape Girardeau last summer from Carterville, Ga. She actually has danced the role of Marie before. She has been in a "Nutcracker" every year but once since she was 3.

"I've tried other sports, but I always stuck with dance," she says. "It always comes naturally."

Crosson is on the dance team at Notre Dame Regional High School. "It's a whole different world to go from ballet to hip-hop with rap music," she said.

Bernhardt was in the third grade the last time the Minnesota Ballet performed "Nutcracker" here. That time she had a small role as a soldier, but it was memorable for her.

"When I was younger, I loved watching the older dancers and the professional dancers perform," she said. "Being in a more predominant role is a cool thing."

Although she has no fear of performing onstage, Bernhardt is beginning to get excited. "It's the joy of getting to perform in front of an audience and having them enjoy what I do," she said.

Dance teachers Tania Statler and Jackie Robertson have been rehearsing the dancers since the auditions in September. They have rehearsed a total of 15 times.

The battle scene is the most complicated for the young dancers, Statler said. "We have all of the soldiers and all of the rats and have to make sure both sections go where they're supposed to."

Robertson rehearsed dancers for last year's performance of "The Great Russian Nutcracker" by the Moscow Ballet. Marie has the most difficult challenge, she says. "It makes it difficult to rehearse some of the parts because she interacts with the company cast.

"... It's a very big role. There is so much interaction with people that aren't there."

The Minnesota Ballet is based in Duluth. This year's performances of "Nutcracker" by the company were limited to Duluth, Columbia, Mo., and Cape Girardeau.

Twelve professional dancers and students in the School of the Minnesota Ballet will be in the production. The role of Drosselmeyer, the magician, is danced by the company's associate artistic director, Robert Gardner.

The performances will benefit the Community Counseling Center Foundation. Executive director Larry Essner says plenty of seats remain for the performances.

335-6611, extension 182

'Nutcracker' in a nutshell

On a winter evening a century ago in the ballroom of a grand 19th-century home, a party is about to begin. Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum, younger daughter Marie, son Fritz, and older daughter Diana greet guests of all ages who stream into the elegant ballroom.

Uncle Drosselmeyer, a crusty retired sea captain, bursts in with a sled full mysterious bulges under a cover. When the captain finally lets the children open the gifts, Diana receives a prince doll, Fritz a mouse warrior, and Marie a wooden nutcracker dressed as a soldier. Drosselmeyer has them act out a wonderful tale of a battle between the soldier and mouse. To the further delight of the children, Drosselmeyer winds up two mechanical dolls, dressed in Swedish folk costume, who dance until they wind down.

After the party, Marie returns to the ballroom, where she falls asleep holding the nutcracker. Suddenly, huge mice creep in, joined by the life-size Mouse King, who try to drag Marie away. The Nutcracker, grown to life size, enters, leading his toy soldiers into battle to win back Marie.

The fight is desperate until Marie intervenes to defeat the Mouse King, whose warriors bear him away.

The battle over, Marie finds herself in a magical forest, a snowy land of starkly beautiful birch trees. The Nutcracker has turned into a Prince. She and the Prince dance with whirling snowflakes, who then spirit Marie and her Prince off in a sleigh to a sun-drenched palace. There they are entertained by spectacular dance from Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian figures in native costumes; little shepherdesses trailing sheep on wheels; twelve children emerging from the huge skirt of Mother Ginger; waltzing flowers; and the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

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