Vail Youth Ballet Company production of ‘The Nutcracker’ features larger cast, professional dancer |

Vail Youth Ballet Company production of ‘The Nutcracker’ features larger cast, professional dancer

Krista Driscoll
Mother Ginger, played by Mary Anne Stavney, and her little mice rehearse for the Vail Youth Ballet Company's biannual production of "The Nutcracker" in Edwards on Saturday, Nov. 21. The production will take place at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, with four shows Friday, Dec. 11, through Sunday, Dec. 13.
Townsend Bessent | |

If you go …

What: “The Nutcracker,” presented by the Vail Youth Ballet Company.

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec 11; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.

Cost: $37.

More information: Purchase tickets at the VPAC Box Office, by calling 888-920-ARTS or visiting

BEAVER CREEK — The story of “The Nutcracker” begins with a Christmas party, where parents waltz and clink glasses and children anticipate the arrival of Herr Drosselmeyer with his magic tricks and wind-up dolls. That party will be a bit bigger this year when the Vail Youth Ballet Company brings its production to the stage.

“It really just captures the whole holiday spirit, but it’s also different because we have some local high school guys playing the parents — from basketball and soccer to dancing on the stage, which is completely different,” said Michele Philippon, a senior at Vail Mountain School who plays the role of the Arabian Princess. “There’s so many more people in the show this year, a lot more dances, a bigger cast. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

The company typically has about 15 or so members who perform in the biannual “Nutcracker” show, but this year, the size of the cast has doubled, said Serena Kozusko, a junior at VMS who stars at the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“There’s a lot more parts to fill, so our director, Nicole Hattler, made some new parts that we haven’t had really or expanded parts,” Kozusko said. “It definitely feels like a bigger production. It almost seems more theatrical with so many people on stage and more opportunities to showcase people now that there’s these new parts.”

The Vail Youth Ballet Company will present four shows of “The Nutcracker,” with evening performances on Friday and Saturday and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek.

Lots of preparation

The company has been preparing for the show for weeks, and Philippon said the rehearsals have provided an opportunity for the older performers to mentor the younger dancers. She said using a buddy system helps the new company members learn how the whole process works.

“We have younger buddies, the older company girls, so we can guide them and tell them, ‘OK, if you have a break, do your homework or use your time wisely’ because we really have to manage our time with rehearsals from 4 to 9,” she said. “Especially during show week — it gets crazy because finals are the next week.”

Alexa Dean, 13, attends Homestake Peak School and plays the role of Clara, the little girl upon whom the mysterious Drosselmeyer bestows the gift of a wooden nutcracker. Clara drifts off to sleep, and in her dreams, the Nutcracker rescues her from the Mouse King and takes her on a journey through The Land of Snow to The Land of Sweets.

“She is very curious and enthusiastic about a lot of things, and excited because it’s her party and she’s going through this whole dream,” Dean said, adding that this year’s performance is special because she has one of the bigger parts.

“Clara just got to be on pointe this year, so that’s exciting,” she said. “It’s a lot of multitasking, and at first, you definitely have to get down the choreography because then you can focus on acting and playing the part.”

Dancing with a pro

A series of dances greets Clara in The Land of Sweets, capped with a performance by Kozusko and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier, Kurtis Irwin. Irwin trained at the Faubourg School of Ballet in Chicago and has danced with Colorado Ballet’s Studio Company. Kozusko said rehearsing with a professional dancer has been educational.

“I’ve never really done serious partnering before,” she said. “I’ve taken some classes, but this is the first time that I’ve gotten to perform really complex ballet partnering. Kurtis is so amazing, and I’ve been able to learn so much from him and learn now to work with a partner better, and it’s been really great to dance with him.”

Philippon said there aren’t a lot of guys who dance ballet locally, and having Irwin at a couple of rehearsals has given the younger girls an opportunity to see a high-caliber male dancer in action.

“I think it’s interesting to see not only his performance but how he warms up and takes care of his body,” she said. “It inspires us to take care of our bodies. He always stretches and warms up and everything. When you see his performance, it’s seeing a professional right before our eyes.

“Seeing one of our friends, Serena, dance with him, it’s a really cool sight. And we’re really blessed to have him in our company this year. I think it really makes the show; it steps it up a notch having a professional.”

Diverse cast

The Vail Youth Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker” also stars Clementine Perkins as the Snow Queen, Annie Cerovich as the Lead Mirliton and Sophia Walder as the Dew Drop Fairy. For the first time in many years, the production will highlight Vail Valley Academy of Dance students in featured roles, including Harry Jaffe as The Nutcracker Prince and Grant Maurer as The Mouse King. Local parent Jeff Cerovich returns as Drosselmeyer.

The sets and professionally made costumes for the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Waltz of the Flowers are works of art, but Kozusko said it’s the cast’s diversity that makes this year’s show dynamic and fun to watch.

“It’s cool to see kids from young ages all the way up to high school age, and it really seems to be a good part of the community because of the inclusion of all the ages,” she said. “I’ve grown up doing it and going to see it when I was really young, so it’s cool to see the progression of the different roles and how much of a part of my life it’s been, how important it’s been to my life.”

Philippon said though bittersweet, she’s looking forward to her last time on stage being part of “The Nutcracker” tradition.

“Being up there on stage and knowing my whole dance family is behind me and all of the people I know are in the audience — it will be really nice to have my senior year,” she said. “I’m so lucky to be dancing in the Vilar; it’s such a beautiful venue. It’s sad, but I’m excited to be back on the stage.”

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