Three local dance companies are turning up the voltage of the holiday glow with annual Christmas productions that will enthrall and inspire children, parents and grandparents alike.
Fredericksburg Ballet Centre
Festivities begin this weekend with the performance of a longstanding seasonal favorite: “The Nutcracker,” featuring a cast of nearly 180 students of the Fredericksburg Ballet Centre, at James Monroe High School.
As the action begins, the Stahlbaum Mansion is abuzz with excitement as friends and relatives gather for a Christmas celebration. One guest, Drosselmeyer (John Mayer)—who is a favorite of young Clara (Allison Kreisman and Madison Bender) and her brother Fritz (Julianna Brown)—is a master toymaker whose creations include a touch of magic. Among the gifts he has brought for the children are dolls that come to life and a wooden nutcracker, which he presents to his goddaughter, who is fascinated by it. When Fritz breaks the toy in an act of envy, Drosselmeyer immediately rises to the occasion and magically mends it.
As the party winds down and the guests leave, Clara is off to bed. As she dreams of angels, the scene around her begins to transform and the Christmas tree reaches a towering height. Suddenly, the ornate owl clock strikes midnight and a stream of little mice scurry in, followed by their evil Rat Queen (Briana McCurley) who begins to harass Clara. Magically, the Nutcracker (Marion Leone) grows in size and comes to life to defend her, engaging in a sword fight with the Rat Queen and her minions.
Just as the Rat Queen is about to strike a fatal blow, Clara distracts her in time for the Nutcracker to make a final lunge and bring her down. Yet, the Nutcracker has been wounded in the battle and, once again, Drosselmeyer comes to his aid.
The Nutcracker is not only mended but is transformed into a handsome prince, who leads Clara out of her nightmare and into the Kingdom of Snow where the King and Queen (Edward Yates and Alyssa Alford) dance, as snowflakes cascade from above.
In the next act, Clara and her prince travel to the fantastic Kingdom of Sweets, opening the threshold for dancing ribbon candies, peppermints and candy canes, cooks and bakers, and 16 colorful little bonbons who emerge from the huge billowing skirts of the Victorian madame Mama G.
Those dancing delights are complemented by a series of fast-paced, wonderfully choreographed performances by delicacies from countries throughout the world—including Spanish chocolate, Chinese tea and Arabian coffee, as well as a shepherdess with her little lambs. The “icing on the cake” are the performances of a Russian Trepak and the “Waltz of the Flowers,” climaxing with the elegant pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier (Rachel Weeks and Patrick Mayer).
The production’s seemingly effortless grace belies the hours of practice and rehearsals that have been invested in it, as well as the enormous contributions of choreographers Beverly Mendez, Terry Mayer, Emily Byer and Taylor Murray, and the fastidious talent of costume designer/creator Cristi Saunders. She kept a sketch pad by her bed to record costumes that she, literally, “dreamed up.”
“Even those who have never seen the ballet are familiar with its musical score, which has become a holiday favorite,” said Jennifer Cleaton (“Miss Jen”), owner and artistic director of the Fredericksburg Ballet Centre. “The Nutcracker can become a wonderful holiday tradition for families, and it may spark children’s imaginations as they experience the artistry of these young dancers.”
Families can continue their celebration of the season next week with two additional holiday extravaganzas. “Santa’s Workshop,” coming to Fredericksburg Academy Dec. 14-15, reveals another secret—magical facet of the world of toys. As Santa’s elves finish up their work, admire the neat rows of colorfully crafted dolls they created and leave the workshop for night, the enchantment begins.
“The dolls realize that they have the ability to move and dance, and that’s when the big dance party begins,” said Lisa Snape Avery, who created and directed the original production.
The audience will be treated to enthralling numbers by a wind-up ballerina, a harlequin doll, fairy dolls and sprites, marionettes and puppeteers, cow girls, baby cows, tango dolls, soldiers, derby darlings, sailors and soldiers, athletic jack-in-the-box dolls, and even Fosse dancers. Finally, the toys run out of steam and collapse onstage. When the elves return in the morning, they are shocked by the disarray that has been left after the bedlam of the night and scamper to get things back in order before Santa arrives for his final inspection.
“The performance will be a delight, filled with excitement, humor, beautiful costumes and, of course, wonderful dancing,” said Avery. “Children will be inspired to see dancers their age performing and may leave with a bigger vision of what they can do. And I think that, for both children and parents, it will bring back the joy and wonderment of an old-fashioned Christmas.”
Fredericksburg Studio of the Arts
Another highlight of next weekend will be Fredericksburg Studio of the Arts’ Christmas recital at Riverbend High School. Presented in two acts, the performance will begin with ballet dances of selected scenes from “The Nutcracker.” Act II will feature the talents of the studio’s students in a range of genres, including hip-hop, musical theater, tap, jazz and contemporary.
“The production is heartwarming, and the dancers’ talent is impressive,” said the studio’s founder, Laura Matter. “Some children may be inspired to try dancing themselves when they see kids their own age performing. And it’s a wonderful way for families to get into the Christmas spirit.”