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Balancing Act

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Sarah Farnsley and Robert McFarland.
Submitted photo
Sarah Farnsley and Robert McFarland. Submitted photo

Sarah Farnsley
Sarah Farnsley

Sarah Farnsley was 10 when she danced the role of Herr Drosselmeyer’s kissing doll in the Dancer’s Studio’s production of “The Nutcracker.” It was her first solo, and Farnsley said she practiced the doll’s precise mechanical movements for hours in the mirror at home.

“It was the first time I looked at her and thought, ‘Oh, she is going to be really good,’” said Alma Wiley, artistic director of Dancer’s Studio.

Today, the 24-year-old is a trainee with Ballet Memphis but will return to Columbus to dance a much more difficult role — that of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“I have essentially danced every role in ‘The Nutcracker’ at one point or another,” Farnsley said.

She has performed in various parts of the classic holiday ballet while a student and trainee at Louisville Ballet and danced the part of Dewdrop Fairy during her senior year at Butler University in 2009. She took part in the snowflake corps and the flower corps during Ballet Memphis’ production last weekend.

Wiley said she nearly always hires a pair of professionals to perform the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, since they require a degree of technical proficiency not commonly found at the student level. Because those roles traditionally have little interaction with the rest of the cast, guest artists can slip into the roles fairly seamlessly with little rehearsal time.

“Sugar Plum choreography is essentially the same across the country and around the world,” said Farnsley, who performed the role of Sugar Plum with Dancer’s Studio in 2006 and 2007 while studying at Butler. “It kind of gets ingrained in you.”

The challenge for Farnsley was finding a male dancer to perform the role of Cavalier with whom she would have time to rehearse in the weeks leading up to the performance.

“It’s all well and fine to to have two dancers who can do the roles, but they have to have time to rehearse together,” Farnsley said.

In most productions of “The Nutcracker,” the Cavalier and Sugar Plum Fairy each perform a solo in the ballet’s second act before joining together in the famous grand pas de deux, an enchanting piece that many consider the high point of the entire


This year, Farnsley enlisted the help of Marcelino Herrera Juarez, a dancer with Ballet Memphis, who also has danced with Richmond Ballet.

Their whirlwind weekend in Columbus will start with a seven-hour drive Dec. 13 before performing abbreviated shows Dec. 14 at local elementary schools. That night, they will have a dress rehearsal with the full cast, then perform for the public Dec. 15 and 16.

“It’s going to be a rushed weekend,” Farnsley said.

To prepare, she and Juarez have been stealing a few moments to rehearse during their 15-minute breaks between classes at Ballet Memphis, ducking into an empty studio whenever they can find one.

Wiley said that beyond being technically proficient, Farnsley has beautiful lines, plus strong stage presence and musicality that make her lovely to watch.

“It just all comes together for her,” she said.

She added that younger dancers are enchanted by seeing a real-life ballerina, while older dancers at the studio are inspired by the success story. And while Farnsley said she loves returning to her home studio and being treated “almost like a mini-celebrity” by the young girls who look up to her, to her, this performance is still serious business.

“I still have a long way to go up the ladder,” Farnsley said. “Any performance opportunity I can get is a plus.”


WHAT: “The Nutcracker,” by Dancer’s Studio Inc.

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16

WHERE: Columbus North High School auditorium, 1400 25th St.

Tickets: Advance tickets cost $9 for students and $14 for adults; same-day tickets cost $1 more. Buy advance tickets at kidscommons, 309 Washington St.; Donner Center, 739 22nd St.; or Dancer’s Studio Inc., 211 Washington St.

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