The Hippo


Jul 16, 2019








See The Nutcracker 

Southern New Hampshire Dance Theater
When: Friday, Nov. 24, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 25, 11 a.m., 4 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 26, 1 and 4:30 p.m. 
Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester 
Cost: $39 to $46 for adults, $25 for children ages 6 through 12. Tickets available through Palace Theatre. 
More info:, 263-3803;, 668-5588
New England Dance Ensemble
When: Saturday, Nov. 25, and Sunday, Nov. 26, 4 p.m.
Where: Seifert Performing Arts Center, 44 Geremonty Drive, Salem
Cost: $25 to $35. Call or see website for tickets. 
More info:, 432-0032
New England School of Dance 
When: Saturday, Dec. 2, 6 p.m. 
Where: Bedford High School, 47 Nashua Road, Bedford
Cost: $20 in advance, $25 at the door. See website for tickets. 
More info:, 935-7326
Portsmouth School of Ballet 
When: Saturday, Dec. 2, 5 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 3, 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. 
Where: Exeter High School Auditorium, 1 Blue Hawk Drive, Exeter 
Cost: $20 for adults, $15 for children. Call to order tickets. 
More info:, 319-6958
Stardancer Studios, Clara’s Cracked Christmas, based on The Nutcracker 
When: Saturday, Dec. 2, 6 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m. 
Where: Claremont Opera House, 58 Opera House Square, Claremont 
Cost: Call for tickets. 
More info:, 865-5626;, 542-4433 
Eastern Ballet Institute and the Concord High School Orchestra 
When: Saturday, Dec. 2, 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m. 
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord 
Cost: $18 to $23 in advance, additional $3 the day of the show. Tickets available through the Capitol Center.  
More info:, 731-3417;, 225-1111 
Dance Visions Network, Nutcracker Suite, abridged version of The Nutcracker
When: Sunday, Dec. 3, 1 and 6 p.m.
Where: Dana Center, Saint Anselm College, 100 St. Anselm Drive, Manchester
Cost: $17 in advance, $18 at the door 
More info:, 626-7654
Northeastern Ballet Theatre
When: Saturday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 3, at 2 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 10, at 2 p.m.
Where: Oyster River High School, 55 Coe Drive, Durham (Dec. 2 and Dec. 3); Kingswood Arts Center, 396 S. Main St., Wolfeboro (Dec. 10) 
Cost: $20 for adults, $17.50 for seniors and children under age 18, $60 maximum for a family of four. Group rates for 10 people or more also available. See website for tickets. 
More info:, 834-8834
City Center Ballet, Clara’s Dream, based on The Nutcracker
When: Thursday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 9, 1 and 4 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 10, 3 p.m. Where: Lebanon Opera House, 51 N. Park St., Lebanon
Cost: $19 to $38 for adults and $9 to $19 for students age 18 in advance, additional $5 on the day of the show. Tickets available through Lebanon Opera House.  
More info:, 448-9710;, 448.0400; 
St. Paul’s School Ballet Academy, The Nutcracker: Act II, abridged version of The Nutcracker 
When: Friday, Dec. 8, and Saturday, Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 10, 2 p.m. 
Where: St. Paul’s School, 325 Pleasant St., Concord 
Cost: Free; seating is first-come, first-served.
More info:, 229-4600 
Turning Pointe Center of Dance
When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 2 p.m. 
Where: Concord City Auditorium, 2 Prince St., Concord 
Cost: $18. Tickets available at the studio (371 Pembroke St., Pembroke) and at the door. 
More info:, 485-8710
Bedford Dance Center, The Nutcracker Suite, abridged version of The Nutcracker 
When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 6 p.m.
Where: Bedford High School, 47 Nashua Road, Bedford
Cost: $18. See website for tickets.  
More info:, 472-5141
Sole City Dance 
When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 2 and 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2 p.m., and Thursday, Dec. 14, and Friday, Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rochester Opera House, 31 Wakefield St., Rochester 
Cost: $26 for adults, $22 for students and seniors. Tickets available through Rochester Opera House. 
More info:, 750-7777;, 335-1992 
New Hampshire School of Ballet 
When: Friday, Dec. 15, 7 p.m., and Thursday, Dec. 28, 7 p.m. 
Where: Concord City Auditorium, 2 Prince St., Concord (Dec. 15); Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester (Dec. 28) 
Cost: $18. Tickets for Dec. 15 available at the dance studio (183 Londonderry Turnpike, Hooksett), Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord) and at the door. Tickets for Dec. 28 show available through Palace Theatre. 
More info:, 668-5330;, 668-5588
Gate City Ballet 
When: Sat., Dec. 16, 1 and 5 p.m., and Sun., Dec. 17, 1 p.m. 
Where: Stockbridge Theatre, Pinkerton Academy, 5 Pinkerton St., Derry
Cost: $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and children. Tickets available through Stockbridge Theatre. 
More info:, 882-0011;, 437-5210 
Kearsarge Conservatory of the Performing Arts
When: Saturday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 17, 2 p.m. 
Where: Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main St., New London
Cost: Tickets available at the door. 
More info:, 456-3294
Ballet Misha 
When: Saturday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 17, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. 
Where: Dana Center, Saint Anselm College, 100 St. Anselm Drive, Manchester
Cost: $20. See website for tickets.  
More info:, 668-4196

So Many Nutcrackers
How local productions put their spin on a holiday classic

By Angie Sykeny

 Right now, hundreds of dancers are preparing to perform in local productions of the classic holiday ballet The Nutcracker. For many dance studios and ballet companies, it’s an annual show, and the culminating event where dancers can showcase what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown over the last year. 

“It’s definitely a holiday tradition in the dance world. It wouldn’t feel like Christmas if we didn’t do The Nutcracker,” New Hampshire School of Ballet owner and Nutcracker director Jennifer Rienert said. “We look forward to it all year. It really brings things full circle for us.” 
Dancers aren’t the only ones getting ready for the big show. It takes a team of people — directors, dance instructors, acting coaches, musicians and musical directors, set designers, costumers and others — to get The Nutcracker onstage. 
Telling the story 
The story of The Nutcracker is taken from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. It premiered as a two-act ballet scored by Russian composer Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky in 1892.  
The traditional ballet opens on a Christmas Eve party, where young Clara is given a wooden nutcracker doll by her godfather. Later that night, the nutcracker grows to the size of a real person and leads an army of gingerbread soldiers into battle against an army of mice. When Clara saves the nutcracker from being overcome by the Mouse King, the nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince, and the two run off to the Land of Sweets, where the second act takes place. To honor Clara for her heroic act, a series of dances are performed by sweets from around the world: Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinese tea and Russian candy canes, concluding with a dance between the Sugar Plum Fairy — ruler of the Land of Sweets — and her Cavalier. The ballet closes with Clara and the prince riding away in a reindeer-drawn sleigh. 
The storyline varies depending on the production; some ballet companies stay as true to the original story as possible or only make minor changes while others do more contemporary adaptations or ballets that are inspired by The Nutcracker but go by a different name. 
In Ballet Misha’s production directed by Amy Fortier, the children who emerge from Mother Ginger’s hoop skirt to dance during the second act are not children as they are in the traditional ballet, but gingerbread cookies. 
“I wanted to do something I had never seen before, and I’ve never seen another Nutcracker with gingerbread cookies,” Fortier said. “It’s just a little twist that makes our Nutcracker different from most.” 
Rienert modified the New Hampshire School of Ballet’s production by adding more dancing scenes, particularly in the first act. 
“The first act isn’t as exciting. It’s very slow and basic, with a lot of acting and pantomime and not much dancing,” she said. “So we’ve gone away from that and put a lot more dancing into the first act to make it more exciting and fun.” 
Some studios also bring in other kinds of dancers, either from the classes they offer or from other studios, to incorporate dancing and movement styles besides ballet into the show. Ballet Misha is using some acrobats and tumblers, and the Eastern Ballet Institute is using aerialists and gymnasts. 
“Aerial is really eye-catching. I think the aerialists are the most interesting piece of the show,” Eastern Ballet Institute director Brandi Reed said. “They’re doing the Arabian coffee piece, and I think it was a good match to have that kind of style for that performance.” 
Landing the role 
For youth dancers like 17-year-old New Hampshire School of Ballet student Kaylyn Tracey, The Nutcracker is more than just a show — it’s a chance to move up the ranks in the dance world. 
Tracey, who is approaching her seventh Nutcracker production, has played many different roles over the years, including the Dewdrop fairy, the Spanish dancer, the Arabian dancer and the Sugar Plum Fairy. This year, she has been cast in the lead role of Clara. 
“This is my senior year, so I was extremely excited that I get to be Clara,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.” 
Many dance studios cast children as young as 6 in The Nutcracker. The dancers chosen to play the lead roles are typically dancers who have performed in the ballet every year from a young age and worked their way up the ranks. 
Sallie Werst, an alumni of Southern New Hampshire Dance Theater and a full-time teacher at the school, said she still remembers the excitement of finding out what part in The Nutcracker she was chosen to play when she was a kid. She’ll be performing in this year’s Nutcracker for her 10th year as a special guest dancer, playing the roles of the Arabian dancer and the Spanish dancer. 
The Nutcracker has this hierarchy. You can see how the kids grow into the next role, and even though it’s the same show every year, they get excited about moving on to that next role,” Werst said. “Sometimes I get major flashbacks of when I was a little girl, idolizing the older dancers. But I moved up every year, and now it’s cool to be on the other end of that.” 
Werst is one of several professional dancers and alumni joining the youth dancers in SNHDT’s Nutcracker, which has six shows at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. It has two different casts, each doing three of the shows.
“Because this is a professional production at the Palace, it requires a certain level of expertise,” artistic director Patricia Lavoie said. “Many times you need professional dancers to fill some of those roles to raise the quality of the production.” 
The professionals take on a number of roles, including the Land of Sweets dancers and the nutcracker Prince. SNHDT also features surprise celebrity guests to play the role of Mother Ginger in each performance. Past celebrities have included WZID’s Mike Morin and WMUR’s Erin Fehlau. The opportunity to play the lead role of Clara, however, is always reserved for talented student dancers chosen by a panel of judges.  
New England Dance Ensemble also casts professional guest dancers in its Nutcracker production for some of the more advanced roles. The reason, says director Barbara Mullen, is not only to raise the quality of the production, but also to provide youth dancers with a unique opportunity to work alongside professional dancers. 
“It gives [the kids]  something to aspire to,” she said. “They’ll be able to say, ‘I performed with these professional people’ and talk about how fantastic it was to watch them, and how inspiring it was.” 
Other studios, like the New Hampshire School of Ballet, cast only student dancers for The Nutcracker. Rienert said her most advanced students are fully capable of performing the more challenging roles, and she believes they should be given that opportunity rather than watching those roles being played by professionals. 
“I think it’s important, because these kids may never have another chance to be in The Nutcracker,” she said. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing to play the Sugar Plum Fairy or Clara. It’s a dream come true for them, and I think they deserve that chance.” 
Practice makes perfect 
Most ballet companies and studios begin rehearsing for The Nutcracker in September or October. 
It all starts with the choreography; the directors either develop original choreography or adapt it from one or more of the large-scale Nutcracker productions. 
Fortier recreates the choreography for the ballet every year so that it’s customized for the cast. 
“Dancers are unique individuals, and you can’t expect them to all do this cookie-cutter choreography,” she said. “I manipulate the choreography to show each dancer’s particular strengths and show their prowess as a dancer. That makes it interesting for the audience, too because it’s always a little different.” 
Since this is the Eastern Ballet Institute’s first year producing The Nutcracker, Reed got an early start, holding auditions in June and choreographing and working with the students playing lead roles throughout the summer. 
“Since we’re brand new, there’s a lot we need to get done,” she said, “so we really want to just take our time with it and take everything slow.” 
After learning the basic choreography, the dancers begin what Fortier calls “cleaning.” They work on uniformity, making sure their heads turn at the same time and their arms are at the same angle and they’re stepping on the same count. Once they’ve got that down, it’s all about practice. They practice the sequences over and over to built endurance and stamina, which is especially important for dancers playing multiple roles or roles with multiple dances, and to build muscle memory. 
“We get them to the point that they don’t second guess anything they do,” Fortier said. “Even if they’re nervous on stage, their body will keep going because they’ve done it so many times.” 
Tracey said that, in playing the role of Clara, she has more choreography to learn than any of the roles she’s played in the  past, as well as more acting elements. She’s been working hard in class and has been stretching and practicing her choreography at home. 
“The other parts I’ve done are just one dance, but Clara is in pretty much the whole thing, so there’s a lot to remember, and it requires a lot more endurance,” she said. “It’s definitely a challenge, and I have to practice a lot more than before.” 
For Werst, who has played the Arabian dancer and Spanish dancer roles in the past, it’s a little easier because she doesn’t need to learn any new choreography, but she still does everything she can to prepare and perform at her best. 
“I take any free time I can find to rehearse, and I make it a priority between now and the show to be smart about staying healthy and pacing myself and staying in shape to avoid injury.” 
In addition to learning and practicing the dancing, dancers have to consider their acting skills. Some studios, like New England Dance Ensemble, bring in an acting coach to work with the dancers on developing their characters, conveying emotion and facial expressions. 
In a way, Mullen said, the acting is even more important than the dancing. 
“The majority of the people in the audience are not dancers,” she said, “so they need to see some really good acting that they can truly relate to. That’s why we spend so much time on it.” 
Setting up 
Dance studios and companies go to varying degrees of elaborateness with their sets and costumes for The Nutcracker. Many of the studios for which The Nutcracker is essentially a recital keep things simple and order or rent their set backdrops and costumes from a supplier. For the larger and professional productions, they get most of their set pieces, props and costumes custom-made. 
Fortier said she looks at The Nutcracker as an opportunity to support local artists and arts organizations. Ballet Misha’s production features two backdrops painted by a New Hampshire artist and handmade costumes made by a New Hampshire seamstress.
“A lot of schools don’t put the kind of time and effort into the set and costumes that we do,” she said. “New Hampshire is one of the few states that doesn’t have a big professional ballet company, so we try to do a really professional production. If you don’t go to the Boston Ballet, this is as close as you’re going to get. It’s pretty visually stunning.” 
The Southern New Hampshire Dance Theater’s Nutcracker features some unique set pieces and props handmade by its former lighting and stage manager Wally Pineault. He made the guns and swords for the battle scene, and he designed and built a snow machine that releases snow evenly from above the stage.
The first large set piece he made was the grandfather clock that is in Clara’s home. The wooden clock stands at 9 feet tall and has a space on the bottom for small children performing as mice to crawl through. Pineault used architectural tape to cut out the Roman numerals and shallacked them onto the face of the clock. Then, he stained the whole thing and added some designs with gold paint. 
“The family in the story is a wealthy family, so I had to make the clock look very polished and ornate and expensive-looking,” he said. “A clock like that, if it was well-made and actually worked, would probably be very expensive.” 
The other piece he made, which will be featured for its second show this year, is the Christmas tree that grows as the nutcracker grows to life size. For years, the production used a simple flat felt tree, but Lavoie wanted to update it with a three-dimensional tree that would grow before the audience’s eyes. Pineault had an idea; he ordered about a dozen artificial Christmas trees and removed all of their limbs. Then, he wired the limbs together to make one giant tree that could be folded down to 6 feet tall and unfolded to become 15 feet tall. 
“It took me forever, and I got a lot of pinpricks, but it worked, and it looked great,” he said. 
The tree has a cable attached to the back, which is attached to a fly system. Someone will pull a rope on the system which is connected to the wire, and the tree will unfold and grow. 
“It’s like an Alice in Wonderland kind of effect,” Pineault said. “The nutcracker comes alive and the tree gets bigger, and it makes the audience feel like they’re shrinking down. It’s all larger than life.” 
Magical music 
While most local Nutcracker productions use recorded music, there are two that will feature music by a live orchestra. 
Southern New Hampshire Dance Theater’s production at the Palace Theatre will have a 22-piece orchestra led by Grammy award-winning conductor John McLaughlin Williams. The inclusion of live music is important, Lavoie said, because it gives the production a more professional quality.  
“It’s part of the overall experience for the audience, to see the production live in a theater like the Palace and have live music as opposed to music from a CD,” she said. “It really adds to the magic.” 
Reed knew from the start that she wanted the Eastern Ballet Institute’s first Nutcracker production to have live music. That’s why she reached out to Anthony Varga, musical director for the Concord High School orchestra, to see if he would be interested in having some of his students perform. 
Varga loved the idea and recruited his most advanced students as well as two alumni and some of the musicians he has performed with as part of the Nashua Chamber Orchestra and New Hampshire Philharmonic for a total of 18 musicians: nine violists, two cellists, one double bass player, three viola players and two pianists. 
Since there are no high school-level rearrangements for the whole Nutcracker score, Varga said, the orchestra will be performing the authentic score, which is very advanced. 
“It’s far beyond what they’d encounter even at a collegiate level,” Varga said, “but a lot of the music is familiar to the students. They’ve at least heard it before, even if they’ve never played it, and that’s been a big help.” 
The most challenging thing, Varga said, is performing in a production where the music isn’t the focus, but is only providing support for the primary art form, the dancing.
“It makes a world of difference. In a concert situation, musicians are more empowered. If there’s a hiccup along the way, we simply fix it,” he said. “When there are more people involved who aren’t in touch with what we’re doing in the pit, it becomes more complicated and is not always easy to coordinate.” 
To ensure that the orchestra plays at the same tempo to which the dancers are dancing, Reed gave Varga the recordings that her students have been using to practice. Some of the scenes with the most intricate choreography will still use a recording, but the orchestra will perform for five scenes in Act 1 and five scenes in Act 2. 
Right now, the two groups are practicing separately and still learning the choreography and music, but when it gets closer to the date of the show, they’ll start practicing together to make sure that they will perform in sync.
Though he knew it would be a challenge, Varga said he jumped at the chance to give his students such a rare and rewarding experience. 
“Not a lot of high school-level musicians ever get to collaborate and produce something of this magnitude,” he said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for them.” 

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