A timeless classic: ‘Nutcracker’ dancers ready to soar in shows this weekend

Photo by Tami Mohs Dancers Studio Inc. performer Isabel Fay rehearses a scene with guest dancer A.J. Gross for this weekend’s productions of “The Nutcracker.”

Truth be told, Isabel Fay is the literal poster girl for lyrical grace and artistry amid the production of a timeless Christmas classic. But sometimes before a show, she feels something like the poster girl for pre-performance jitters.

“The nerves are very pronounced,” Fay said with a serious face, until she broke into laughter at herself. “I need something that centers me.”

Then, she remembers that she has to be strong. So she drops to the floor backstage. And she aggressively starts some push-ups.

Take a look at the promotional poster shot for the local Dancers Studio Inc.’s presentation of “The Nutcracker” scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Judson Erne Auditorium in Columbus. The Columbus North High School senior looks to be nearly levitating in the arms of guest dancer and partner A.J. Gross from the University of Cincinnati during a rehearsal of a scene known as Arabian Coffee.

And if you look closely at Fay’s widely spread arms, you can plainly see that she has enough muscle to power her way through perhaps any anxiety.

Fay and about 130 other performers from the nonprofit studio will present the lavish spectacle of the annual show, complete with Susannah Lipinski’s glitter-and glam, professional-caliber costuming, before an expected total audience of about 1,600 people — including a free, Friday abbreviated matinee performance exclusively for area students. New studio artistic director and Columbus native Lauren Haza, originally a studio student in 1996, is directing the performances for the first time.

“We have a lot more little ones in it this year,” she said of her pint-sized students.

Which often translates to a big draw for parents, grandparents and other family members oohing and aahing their way through every movement of every adorable mouse or toy soldier. Haza understands that, even in a local ballet that has a reputation for athletic and artistic excellence, children sometimes steal the show with their off-script spontaneity.

“If anything, sometimes it makes it even better if they do something a little silly,” Haza said, adding that she loves watching them.

Abby Jones, in a major role as the Snow Queen, loves watching the younger participants, too. But, she also has loved hearing the younger students react with applause and even unabashed screams during the school sh0ws through her decade in “The Nutcracker.” So Jones figures they especially will enjoy the tweaked toy soldiers’ cannon this year, courtesy of the humor and genius of prop and set wizards Mark and Elizabeth Bays.

The apparatus this year will shoot crazy confetti streamers.

“Those school kids will freak,” Jones said.

“Yeah, those school shows are special, because the kids don’t hold back when it comes to reactions,” said Haza, adding that many never have seen such a production.

Despite an still-recovering injured right ankle from the past, Jones is aiming to not hold back amid the ballet’s choreography by Haza, Kaylin Hogan, Renee Hodge and Josie Moody. Jones has iced the joint every evening since the beginning of November so she can be at her best.

“These girls are sooo very athletic,” said Andrea Davis, the studio’s executive director, speaking emphatically. “Our dancers are athletes in art.”

And maybe psychological warriors of sorts, given their head-on battle with butterflies to make the show’s storyline come to life about a little girl falling asleep on Christmas Eve near the Christmas tree and dreaming of a fanciful battle between an evil Rat King and a savior Nutcracker.

Jones will have pop-rock music in her headphones before this weekend’s shows to “get me into the right headspace.”

And we already know Fay’s behind-the-scenes preparation. And did anyone mention that Fay, in her 12th and final Nutcracker, is a bit concerned that tears could fall with the final curtain? She began her run with the ballet when she was a tiny mouse.

“At the end,” Fay said, “I think that I’m going to be very sad.”

About the show

Who: The nonprofit Dancers Studio Inc.’s annual production of the Christmas classic “The Nutcracker”

Story: The Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ballet is one featuring a storyline of a little girl falling asleep on Christmas Eve near the Christmas tree and dreaming of a fanciful battle between an evil Rat King and a savior Nutcracker.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

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

Tickets: dancers-studio.org/ticket-information or available at the door or at the studio at 2158 Cottage Ave.