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September 2014


Magic is real in MainStage's 'Nutcracker'

There are many more than nine dancers in "The Nutcracker," but the ballet provides the inspiration behind our "nine ladies dancing" story for our "12 Days of Christmas" series.

The magic is real, if you believe it.

That's what "The Nutcracker" can teach us, even today. The MainStage Academy of Dance's third annual Nutcracker production reminded me of that.

Clara's (Elise Sloey) surprise from receiving the nutcracker from toymaker Uncle Drosselmeyer (Caleb Zlomke) was palpable, an emotion carried from the stage and into the audience.

"(Dancing) is just something that you live by doing. You never want to stop, and that's how I express my emotion, I guess. It's kind of part of who I am, and I enjoy every moment of it. I never want to stop," said Emme Burchardt, who plays the Snow Queen.

And when Clara's brother Fritz (Alex Meeth) breaks the nutcracker, the cacophony of sounds and anxious strobes carry well into the eggshell silence that follows. MainStage Artistic Director Eddy Bray said this is actually his favorite part.

"For me, my favorite part is where Clara is wondering why she didn't receive a gift. Then she finally gets the courage to ask Drosselmeyer, and he presents her with the nutcracker and shortly after, she loves it, she's playing with it, and Fritz comes out and breaks it. The music, the lights and the choreography - how it all comes together at that moment is just a true moment of storytelling," Bray said. "There is no one in the audience that will not get how we are feeling in those moments."

But the toymaker repairs the little soldier, as we all know, and Clara falls asleep with him in her arms as they are carried off into her dream.

The mouse scene was always my least favorite. When I was younger, the mice terrified me, and Bray's production didn't really give me closure. He explained that the dancers mimic rodents' movements, and some incorporated new masks this year.

Thankfully, Clara and the nutcracker beat them and were whisked away to the land of snow. A friend leaned over to ask me what the confetti was made out of, and I couldn't help but smirk at the magic at the Oconomowoc Arts Center.

"It's magic … This year we actually have real snow, and it looks very cool," Burchardt said.

I've always loved the Snow Queen (Burchardt), and her costume was my favorite. For such a small dance studio, it was surprising to learn that many of the costumes were tailored for each dancer, hand sewn and beaded in Moldova. The Snow Queen's dress glowed on the dimly lit stage and every pas jeté seemed to fall softly into her next movements. The snowflake dancers, too, moved onto the stage in a flurry of well-rehearsed patterns.

The toymaker Uncle Drosselmeyer actually flew above the dancers with suspending wires, which were only fitted the day before.

"To be able to say, 'OK, he's creating the snow; he's creating the dancers,' we decided to take Drosselmeyer all the way off the stage … It helps us really create the fantasy," Bray said.

The Sugar Plum Court, too, was a great time for the audience. The Sugar Plum Fairy (Maddie Gruenke) danced to some of my favorite music in Tchaikovsky's score, and she definitely set the bar for the rest of the dancers in the Land of Sweets.

The Spanish dancer, Reed Flutes, Arabian dancers, Gingerbread Mother and children, Chinese dancers, Russian dancers and dancing flowers blew through quick costume changes with contagious amounts of enthusiasm and high levels of professionalism.

"I think it's exhilarating, being on stage or being in front of people. I think all the hard work you put into it, it's neat to see everybody clap - it's a great feeling," said Sam Booth, Russian and Arabian dancer.

Of course, Clara and the nutcracker share a final dance before waking from their dream, and after seeing the complex lifts, twirls, leaps and bends during the grand pas de deaux, I was not at all surprised to learn that MainStage dancers have won quite a few dance scholarships (last year's lead went on to the Portland Ballet).

"I think that anytime a dancer turns, jumps or balances you can be impressed because it probably looks easy, but it takes a lot of work to make it look effortless," Sloey said.

To prepare for the show, the dancers had been training for two hours about four or five times each week. Rehearsals on the weekends were an additional four to five hours.

See more photos.

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