Fanciful, seasonal ‘Nutcracker’ to dance into town Dec. 19

Forget the fact that a royally clad nutcracker has been saving Christmas for 125 years around the world. Columbus dancer Mila Lipinski will swear that a traditional children’s tale and ballet passed down through the ages remains as fresh as the latest winter snow and as enchanting as the most vivid fairy tale.

“It’s still magical,” Lipinski said as her face lit up with a smile. “Even when you’ve been in the show for a while and you know technically how the Christmas tree grows in the one scene, it all still seems like magic.”

Lipinski and her friends from Columbus’ Dancers Studio Inc. aim to unleash a bit of that magic when they present their annual production of the classical show, “The Nutcracker,” on Dec. 19 at Columbus’ Judson Erne Auditorium.

Indianapolis Dance Kaleidoscope’s Mariel Greenlee will star as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Stuart Coleman, also in the Indianapolis troupe and a Dancers Studio instructor, will be her Cavalier.

And while the basic story remains the same — a young girl named Clara falls asleep after a family Christmas party and dreams of a horrible battle between a brought-to-life nutcracker and the rat king before she awakens under the tree — director Alma Wiley also has tweaked some scenes and changed nearly every dance. She does so not only to challenge her student dancers, ranging from about elementary school age to high school seniors, but also to stretch herself and make the presentation new.

Her eyes grew wide with disbelief when someone asked how she would react to offering the exact same show year after year.

“I would just run screaming,” Wiley said with a laugh.

Student dancer Sonia DiOrio, a 12-year member of Dancers Studio Inc., has collaborated on choreography with Wiley for the “Spanish Chocolate” scene. It marks the first time the director ever has allowed such in the production.

“I just knew she had that flair,” Wiley said, adding that DiOrio possesses “a feel for the music.”

The piece, stretching only about 75 seconds, passes seemingly even quicker because of the jazzy, energetic steps, according to the duo. DiOrio, who refers to her work in the show as “my favorite time of the year,” also has added a special, authentic touch for the dancers with original, colorful fans she bought in Spain.

No matter what adjustments leaders make to the ballet, cast members say a prime target audience remains youngsters. Grace Hundley, part of the Russian dance scene, figures the reason simply.

“You’ve got all these different colors swirling, and all these people dancing,” Hundley said.

Emma Nolting, another of the performers in the Russian dance scene and a veteran of the production, loves the idea of reaching younger audience members.

“Children especially can relate well to the story because of their imagination,” Nolting said.

The child character of Clara becomes the focus of much of that imagination in the ballet. Hannah Larson and Ella Anderson, sharing that role, acknowledged recently that they feel some pressure to be so front and center, especially when the toys face off against the rat army.

“Some of the things are really chaotic,” Larson said. “And there’s a lot happening all at once.”

The local, nonprofit studio originally presented the Christmas classic every other year before making it an annual extravaganza.

“Now, it has become the studio’s brand,” Wiley said.

Others such as Lipinski put it in slightly more human terms.

“It’s just not quite Christmas until there’s ‘The Nutcracker,’” she said.

About the show

“The Nutcracker” is a classical ballet in two acts with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The story, adapted by Lev Ivanov, is based on the famous tale written by E.T.A. Hoffman.

The ballet was first presented at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Dec. 18, 1892.

See the dream unfold

What: Dancers Studio Inc.’s annual presentation of the classical ballet, “The Nutcracker.”

When: 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 19.

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.

Key roles: Mariel Greenlee as the Sugar Plum Fairy; Stuart Coleman as Cavalier; Grant Jackson as the Nutcracker; Ella Anderson and Hannah Larson as Clara; Katie Hodge as the Snow Queen; Laura Van Devender will perform as Dew Drop in the “Waltz of the Flowers;” Isaac Joyner, Johanna Anderson and Caroline Luehrmann will perform “Arabian.” Warren Ward and Bob Anderson will play Herr Droselmeyer, the eccentric toy maker.

Tickets: Students, $10 in advance and $12 at the door; adults, $15 in advance and $17 at the door, available at the studio near Second and Washington streets in Columbus.

Information: 812-376-8080 or dancers-studio.org or the studio’s Facebook page under Dancers Studio Inc. Columbus, Indiana.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.