"Nutcracker" performers show off their characters' personalities in a rehearsal at Vergine's Dance Studio in Soldotna on Saturday. Pictured at top is the Rat King, Jordan Schneider. Back row from left is Grace Olendorff in purple, Karissa Risung in red, Kacia Dimick in black and white, Megan Mazurek in black and whie, Michelle Turner in red and Meredith McCool in purple. Front row from left is Kylie Dimick, Kathryn Lindow in white, Aaron Hawbold as the Nutcracker, Hillary Schneider as Clara, Carlee Sounart in black and yellow and Kelsey Williams. Kneeling from left are Amber Hamar, Emily Schneider and Victoria Cannady.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
With its timeless story of childhood adoration, imagination, whimsy, heroism and adventure, the dance production being staged this weekend in Kenai is, in a nutshell, a classic.
For the second year in a row, anyone on the central Kenai Peninsula wishing to see the holiday ballet "The Nutcracker" won't have to go to Anchorage or turn on their TV to do so. Vergine's Dance Studio in Soldotna is again putting on the show.
"We are delighted to do it," said Vergine Hedberg, owner of the studio. "The kids are more excited this year because the quality has come up even more in the area of dancing and choreography, so they are all excited to show off."
The show is a full-length performance of the popular Christmas Eve tale, where a girl, Clara, receives a nutcracker doll that comes to life at night to fight the Mouse King and his soldiers. After Clara helps him win the battle, he turns into a prince and takes her to the Land of Snow, an enchanted wonderland where she is greeted warmly and celebrated with many different styles of dances for helping the prince.
"The ballet (is popular) not just because of Christmas," said Aram Manukyan, an instructor at the studio. "It's so easy to read what's going on on stage for the average audience that it is easy to understand and grasp what's going on and what's happening, and it's still interesting because it's still colorful and the flavors are so different. You can only imagine Chinese (dancing) in the same place as Russian as Arabian."
The ballet has been performed for more than 100 years with the same characters and story line. Even so, the show doesn't get stale because the choreography changes in each new interpretation. This year, Manukyan choreographed the production, and even took some liberty with the story. In this version, instead of Clara remaining a little girl when she goes to the Land of Snow and watching the prince dance with the Sugar Plum Fairy, she turns into a princess and dances with him herself.
"Every girl wants to be a princess, don't they? At least my daughter thinks so," Manukyan said.
His interpretation includes a child Clara and an adult princess Clara who performs the principle dance with the prince. Those roles will be filled by Steven Hammell and Melody Staples, professional dancers from Ballet Quad Cities in Illinois. Manukyan and another studio instructor, Andrea Mariano, also will perform.
From left, Grace Olendorff, Kathryn Lindow, Karissa Risung, Michelle Turner, Hillary Schneider and Meredith McCool prepare to perform "The Nutcracker," which will be staged Saturday and Sunday in Kenai.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
"It's such an experience, it's such a huge advantage the children get, which the studio is happy to provide for them to bring some professional dancers for the children to see how committed they are to their work and how hard they work and their performing abilities," Manukyan said of the guest performers. "It's like a boost to their knowledge and overall performing ability to be able to perform with the professionals and to work in the studio with the professionals, as well.
More than just the exposure to professionals, the entire experience of being in the "The Nutcracker" is a valuable one for the students, Hedberg said. The show includes lights, sets, props, costumes and all the other embellishments of a full-scale production. And unlike a simple dance recital, performers in the ballet have roles, so they must learn character dancing instead of just memorizing the steps to the dances.
"They're learning how the production runs, they're learning not so much dancing, they're learning acting, as well," Hedberg said. "And a dancer always has to be well rounded. ... A dancer has to be doing everything, so part of that everything is a production. Someday if they ever become a teacher, they have to know how to direct and put on a production."
The show has required a lot of commitment from the dancers, who have been rehearsing since August, and hard work from family volunteers and studio employees who have devoted months to putting the show together. Hedberg and Manukyan say they look forward to having a Saturday to themselves again, but not before all the hard work culminates this weekend.
"The anticipation is huge for the performers ... and I can't wait to see the children perform," Manukyan said. "It's just a big celebration of their hard work (and the work) that we put into it as the studio, as well. ... I wish when I was a child we had a children's production just for us. It's kind of like a dream for the children to have their own performance.
"Overall I'm amazed by the children's willingness, just the fire in their eyes just to come out and perform and do it so well."
"The Nutcracker" will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Tickets are $15 and available at Charlotte's, River City Books, Halcyon Spalon, the studio and at the door.
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