By MARCIA ZIMMERMAN For The News-Letter
For the third consecutive year, the JHU Classical Ballet Company performed Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker in Shriver Hall, welcoming the start of the holiday season on Saturday, Nov. 14.
The Nutcracker is a Russian Christmas story composed by Tchaikovsky and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.
The story follows a girl named Clara who receives a nutcracker doll from her uncle at her family’s Christmas Eve party. Her brother is jealous because he does not receive a gift and fights with Clara over the nutcracker, which breaks. The uncle fixes it, and Clara goes to bed. In a dream enchanted rats come out and terrorize Clara, but her nutcracker prince comes with soldiers to save her. There is a festive snow scene, then Clara and the Prince journey to the Land of the Sweets, where different sweets dance for them.
Finally, there is the Waltz of the Flowers, another dream sequence. Afterward the prince returns Clara in time for Christmas morning. The performance featured dancers with diverse levels of ballet experience, each performer notably challenged themselves. Freshman Gerhardt Weiss as the Prince, junior Elyse Anderson as Clara, Company President senior Jordan Berger as the Sugar Plum Fairy and sophomore Peyton Blackstock as the Snow Queen gave especially memorable performances.
The dancers also brought depth to their characters in their acting: Tommy Kim, playing Clara’s brother Fritz, hilariously fought and pouted in the opening scene. Uncle Drosselmeyer, played by alumna Sarah Goodman, commanded the stage with performance enhanced by both the music and the other dancers’ reactions to the character.
The kissy, soldier and harlequin dolls, played by junior Natalie Lindo, freshman Sarah Banker and sophomore Natalie Campbell, respectively, walked without bending their knees and danced in an exaggerated way that accented which kind of doll they were supposed to be.
The Gingersnaps — sophomore Madi Foster, sophomore Elanor West, sophomore Anna Silk and sophomore Sarah Schreib — and the Rats — sophomores Victoria Gramuglia, Foster, Silk, West, Schreib and freshman Hannah Conti — really worked to draw out the playful and mischievous natures of the characters. The Rat King, freshman Isabella Perone, shone in her sword fighting, acting and dancing.
“I was cast as the Rat King and given the steps, but from there I got to make the character my own,” Perone said. “In the Nutcracker this is especially fun because everyone knows the story, but each dancer can reinterpret the character that they are cast as.
“I love to play the villain. The Rat King is one of my favorite parts in the show because there is no limit of how evil I can be in that role, so I can really do a lot with the character.”
The dancers did more than simply dance and act; they also had the opportunity to “set,” or choreograph and interpret different scenes.
“Participating in as well as setting a scene can be a very difficult process. For the battle scene, I spent a majority of rehearsals watching, instructing and correcting the dancers in the scene, rather than practicing my own part within it,” Elyse Anderson, who played Clara, said. “When we had our first dress rehearsal a couple weeks ago, I was taken off guard when I realized that I was so busy watching that I had missed my entrance. The Rat King turned to me at the end of the scene and asked, ‘Elyse, aren’t you supposed to come on stage and hit me on the head in this part?’ I had completely forgotten to insert myself in the scene.”
Anderson, Blackstock and Berger set whole scenes while other dancers set specific parts. Freshman Anna Koerner danced as a soldier, Arabian Coffee and also set her own solo.
“I was asked to step up to perform Arabian a week before the show. Since soloists usually have several months to choreograph their variations, I felt a bit overwhelmed at the request,” Koerner said. “I combined choreography from my studio back home with my own flairs to create a cohesive piece.”
Some favorite scenes included the Waltz of the Flowers, which was exceptionally set to the music with each stop or flourish emphasized in the dance, the battle scene, which presented exciting sword fighting and movement and the pas de deux, or partner dance, between Clara and the Prince.
“My favorite to perform was my pas de deux with our fantastic freshman male lead, Gerhardt Weiss. I have always viewed partnering as a means of creating an even greater connection with the audience since there are two dancers working in conjunction to create something beautiful for the audience to witness and feel a connection to,” Anderson wrote.
“The rehearsal process was a lot of work, but very rewarding,” Perone said. “We all spent a lot of time in the studio, but because everyone in the company is so supportive and so much fun to work with, the hours passed by quickly and it was a really nice time.”
The Company created the production first by holding an open ballet class at the beginning of the semester, taught by a professional ballet teacher from Peabody. Once the show was cast, rehearsals began — one of which was a five-hour-long block on Sundays. Blackstock, the Production Manager of the Company who danced as a soldier, the Snow Queen and a Demi and Anderson, the treasurer and Vice President of the Company who danced as Clara, were in charge of costumes, rehearsals, schedules, AV, lighting and hiring a photographer, videographer and electrician.