The Nutcracker Ballet returns with four performances
Vail Valley Academy of Dance is staging four live performances of the Nutcracker Ballet Friday through Sunday
This week, the Vail Valley Academy of Dance is staging four live performances of the Nutcracker ballet at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Opening with an evening show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, the show will then take place twice on Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and conclude on Sunday with a 2 p.m. matinee.
The classic holiday story follows protagonist Clara on a magical journey with the Nutcracker prince that takes her from the Christmas Eve party, to a battle between soldiers and Mouse Queen’s army, to the Land of the Snowflakes and the Land of Sweets. Here, Clara and the Prince are welcomed by the Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy, with rewards of beautiful gifts and celebrations of dances from around the world, before Clara awakens from her dream at home with joyful memories of her journey.
Talented cast of all ages
The cast consists of 81 performers of all ages, with the youngest members starting at seven years old and lead roles performed mainly by seniors in high school. This year, the role of Clara will be played by Vail Mountain School senior Emmie Urquhart, who has been dancing at the Vail Valley Dance Academy since kindergarten.
One of the unique aspects of the Nutcracker is that since it is an annual holiday tradition, many of the older dancers have grown up performing a different role in the show each year. Urquhart performed in her first Nutcracker in the second grade – as one of the mice in the battle scene – and has worked her way up to playing both of the lead roles: the Sugar Plum Fairy in 2020, and now Clara.
“I think deep down, there’s a little bit of everyone that wants to be either Clara or Sugar Plum, and I’m so lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to dance both,” Urquhart said. “The beauty of it is that every year the role changes, so you never really know exactly what you’re getting. That is one of the greatest things about the Nutcracker: even though we do it every single year, it’s always so exciting because there’s always something new that [the director] adds, whether that’s new choreography or a new character.”
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Fresh takes on traditional choreography
Ashley Calligan is the co-owner and artistic director of the Vail Valley Dance Academy, and she has been staging Nutcracker performances for over a decade. While she maintains the classical spirit of the show and its roots, she has also instituted some new characters and stage designs to breathe new life into the traditional performance.
“I don’t change it a whole lot, but every year I like to change some of the steps and the parts that I give the kids to make sure that whoever is dancing those parts looks good and that they feel comfortable in their roles,” Calligan said.
This year, Calligan has added the role of English Toffee, a character that was part of the original show but has been largely excluded from modern portrayals.
“The music score has this in it from the 1800s, but most companies don’t do it, and so we found a version of the music that we liked and we were able to add it in this year for one of our seniors, Ella Moberg,” Calligan said. “I feel confident that it fits the story back to what it was when they first started to do the Nutcracker, and now I’m able to provide that extra soloist part.”
Professionals step in as dance partners
The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” – arguably the most famous and recognizable dance in the ballet – will be performed by Eagle Valley High School senior Karley Kintner and her partner Michael Stone, a professional dancer who Calligan has brought in to play the role of the Cavalier.
“We are very limited in our valley on boys who do ballet, so in order for us to provide the opportunity for our dancers to have the experience to do partnering, we have to bring them in from outside the valley,” Calligan said. “I choose people based on who I know and how I know they work, so I know they’re going to come in, be easy to work with and have a really great time.”
Kintner, who will be dancing the coveted role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, said she is thrilled to be performing the part for her senior year.
“I was ecstatic,” Kintner said. “The only times I’ve cried, like happy joy, was when I got into company here my first year and then this role. It’s so special having this as my last big thing.”
Kintner has not had the opportunity to do many partner dances before this year, but she has stepped up to the challenge of expanding her repertoire for the show.
“In past roles, it’s always just been rehearse on yourself, and you’ve got it for the show,” Kintner said. “Now, it’s like you have a whole other person depending on you, it’s a back and forth. Trying to learn to work with another person is scary, but exciting, because it’s like the next level of dance.”
Kintner and Stone only get one week to practice together in-person before taking the stage together at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Fortunately, while Kintner is new to the role, Stone has performed in dozens of productions of the Nutcracker and is used to jumping in with new partners.
“The biggest thing I try to do with dancers who don’t have a ton of partnering experience is ensure trust in each other personally, because when you can trust each other as people, you can trust each other as partners on stage,” Stone said. “That’s the biggest thing about dancing together, because you can mess up the steps all day long, but as long as your connection together reads, the audience understands what the intent is and they can see a better picture and story.”
In addition to Stone, there are two other professional dancers who will be performing in the show: Ezra Schenck, who will dance as the Nutcracker Prince alongside Urquhart’s Clara, and local dance instructor Colin Meiring, who will reprise his role as Drosselmeyer.
Experience the classic tale
Even with a large cast of 81 dancers, most of the performers are double or triple cast, taking on different roles in different scenes. For example, Eagle Valley High School Junior Riley Coe will emerge as the Mouse Queen, the lead Russian, and a snow flower over the course of the show.
“For my mouse queen role, it’s very sassy and one of the funnier roles, so you have to get in that mindset, but then for the flowers and snow it’s very delicate and smiling as you send Clare off to the land of sweets,” Coe said. “Then when you’re in Russian, it gets really fast and really crazy, and pretty intense, so you kind of have to have a different mindset for each role. The costumes help, and the music helps.”
The story is further brought to life by mesmerizing backdrops and sets that are designed and built by Calligan’s husband. With a combination of beautiful dances, elaborate costumes and colorful sets, attendees of all ages will be transported to a magical wonderland just in time for the holidays.
“The story of the Nutcracker has been told for so many years and it’s easy to follow, so kids from very young children to adults know the story, they can follow it really easily,” Calligan said. “And it’s nice to see dancers of all ages together on stage, so when you’re young, you can say ‘oh look, I can do that’.”
During each performance, there will be a bake sale and beverages available prior to and during intermission of each show, as well as a boutique selling Nutcracker-themed gifts. An on-line auction will also take place beginning Dec. 8 and run through the last show on Dec. 12. Look for a QR code at the performances to make your bids to win your favorite items.
Lastly, the company dancers’ personally-decorated Nutcracker-themed pointe-shoes will be on display at the theater and available to purchase. Be sure to bring cash for the bake sale, boutique and pointe-shoe purchases.
Tickets are available at $35 for balcony seats and $45 for lower level seats, and can be purchased at vilarpac.org or by calling 970-845-8497.
The Vilar Performing Arts Center requires proof of full vaccination for those 12 years and older. Ticket holders under 12 are required to wear a mask. View the full policy prior to purchasing tickets at vilarpac.org/covid19-policy.
What: The Nutcracker Ballet
Where: The Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek
• Friday, December 10 at 7:30pm
• Saturday, December 11 at 2:00pm
• Saturday, December 11 1 at 7:30pm
• Sunday, December 12 at 2:00pm
Price: $35 balcony seating, $45 lower level seating. Tickets can be purchased at vilarpac.org or call 970-845-8497