For ballet dancers around the world, Nutcracker season brings waves of nostalgia. Dancers literally grow up in "The Nutcracker," acquiring and polishing professional skills while providing holiday enchantment for audiences. On December 3, The Dance Foundation of Maryland and Morton Street Dance Center will present "The Nutcracker" at Chesapeake Arts Center. For some in the cast of 50 dancers aged 6-65, it will be the first opportunity to be a part of a ballet tradition. For others, it will be a chance to grow along with a production that premiered in 2021 and is enhanced in 2022 with new costumes, special guests, and other surprises.
Donna L. Jacobs, director of the Morton Street Dance Center and artistic director of Baltimore's Full Circle Dance Company, says, "It is significant to me that our production features such a wonderfully diverse cast of dancers in leading roles. Things are changing in the ballet world, but there is still a need for progress. I want young dancers of every race and background to see ballet as open to them. The beautiful dancers in this production are inspiring examples for the next generation of artists." Young dancers everywhere dream of playing the little girl at the center of the Nutcracker story, who is called Marie Clara in this production. Eleven-year-old Sophie Faustin will reprise the role this year. She says, "It is an honor to play her for the second time. It was one of the best experiences of my life last time. I hope I can bring a sense of love and magic to the show this year, as well as something that people can connect with. Finally, I want to do something that I am proud of."
Amelia McLean, also eleven, found that diligent work as an understudy last year paid off. She is excited to be one of two Marie Claras this year. "I hope to learn a lot about playing a lead role and I hope to teach others about the Nutcracker," she says. Armani Rèy Colón joins the production this year in the role of the Nutcracker Prince. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance at the Peabody Institute. "I just really love the diversity and openness of this Nutcracker," Colon says. "It allows students to really flourish. That's vital in seeing ballet for the beautiful art form it is and for keeping younger generations invested in the historical dance form."
Snow Queen Natori Blackman-Gray trained as a young dancer at Morton Street Dance Center, and now teaches at the school. She has performance and choreography experience across multiple genres, but she is especially relishing the beauty and sparkle of this production. "This is my very first Nutcracker," she says, "and being Snow Queen has been an amazing experience. I'm most excited to wear the costume and to see the story come to life. The music inspires me so much, and it is wonderful to be a role model to students."
Members of Full Circle Dance Company, the professional company in residence at Morton Street Dance Center, are lending a hand both on the stage and behind the scenes. Full Circle's Morgan James will be the featured soloist in the coffee variation, which showcases flexibility, technique, and acting. Company members Shaela Davis, Marina Wright, and Liz Pelton have been coaching students, developing choreography, and rehearsing guest artists. The months of organizing and planning and the many hours of rehearsal are "absolutely worth it," says director Donna Jacobs. "This production is designed to bring joy and holiday cheer to people of all ages. Every dancer is striving to create that sense of glistening beauty, of magic. To be part of that process is a special gift, and each of our dancers--from the tiniest to the most experienced--feels that sense of pleasure in sharing something magical."
Photos: Jameer Robinson