Studio works hard to stage elaborate 'Nutcracker'

Posted: Thursday, December 04, 2003

Orchestrating 80 performers, synchronizing detailed choreography and dealing with elaborate props and costumes will be challenging for producers when Vergine's Dance Studio stages its full-length, ambitious production of "The Nutcracker" next week, but individual dancers face challenges as well that are perhaps not as dramatic, but still important when it comes to performing a quality production.

For Grace Olendorff, 12, it was a challenge learning how to "dance snobby," she said.

Most dancers in the production play three or four parts. While it's not acting in the sense that there are lines to deliver, each character does have its own persona that the dancers must portray through their motions and facial expressions.

The Spanish Hot Chocolates, for example, are annoying and snobbish. That character is Olendorff's favorite to play because being snobby is not something she does very often, she said.

"Yeah, right," joked Heather Benton, 18, a fellow Spanish Hot Chocolate.

Benton's favorite character to play is a Russian Peppermint, which are strong, prideful and energetic. The great thing about the peppermints is the role requires smiling, Benton said, which will be nice during the performance since smiling is a common side effect of being nervous.

Changing costumes also is required when changing roles, though the physical change is much easier to make than the mental one.

"It's kinda hard just because you have to change your whole personality," Olendorff said.

According to Anna Stinsman, the dance instructor, choreographer and costume designer for the show among other roles getting the dancers to learn their characters has been one of several difficult tasks in putting together "The Nutcracker."

"It's a lot of memorization for choreography, layer on that the character work they've had to do which has been a struggle layer on that the entrances and exits," she said.

The sheer logistics of staging a two-hour dance production with 80 performers ranging from 6-years-old to adults has been tough, Stinsman said.

To make it even more challenging, Stinsman and Vergine Hedberg, owner of the dance studio that's sponsoring the show, have not cut corners or skimped on details, they said.

"We will have snow and huge props; we went all out," Stinsman said. "It's a full-blown show. There's a cannon and everything."

Rehearsals began during the summer and since September, dancers have spent seven to eight hours every Saturday rehearsing.

"It's been a very rough period, but I wouldn't have it any other way," Stinsman said. "It needs to happen in this community. I love the idea of the community having a large-scale production of 'The Nutcracker.' It's not just some slapped-together thing."

Between schoolwork and school activities, illnesses, vacations and other commitments, the dancers have had to have no lack of dedication when it comes to getting ready for the performance.

"Their brains are packed," Stinsman said. "There's been no slacking off in any department."

Even though some dancers said they'll be happy to have their Saturdays free again, none bemoaned their decision to take part in the production.

"I made lots of new friends with people I probably wouldn't have if not involved in 'The Nutcracker,'" said Jenna Anastay, 17.

"We all appreciate the time (it takes) to perfect something you work on," said Brittnay Gardner, also 17.

The chance to participate in a classic and well-loved show like "The Nutcracker" also has been fun for the dancers.

"It's tradition during the holidays, so it kind of gets people into the season," said Megan Mazurek, 17.

Even though the end of their hard work is near, the dancers will have to keep on their toes literally and figuratively during the next week, since two guest performers from the National Ballet Company of Canada will arrive to offer clinics for the dancers and to rehearse their parts as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince.

Having professional dancers come to town has been a dream of Hedberg's since she first decided to put on "The Nutcracker," because it would be a wonderful learning opportunity for the dancers, she said.

People have been suggesting for years that she put together such a large-scale production, but Hedberg hesitated because she didn't think the dancers were up to the challenge. But with the advanced level of the dancers she has now, she thought the time was right to go all out.

"I didn't want to bring in professional dancers out of state and be embarrassed," she said. "I know we're in a small town, but I don't think that changes our standards at least not mine."

Though it has been a lot of work preparing for the show, and will continue to be for the next week, Stinsman said she's confident the show will be a success.

"I have no reason to believe it's not going to be the most amazing experience," Stinsman said. "Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. The community will be really surprised at the quality these dancers are going to put out."

"The Nutcracker" will be performed at 7 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13 and at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 in the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Tickets are $15.

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