Delaware Ballet enchants with ‘The Nutcracker’

CAMDEN — On a Monday night in early December, your typical student might be finishing up homework or browsing their Netflix queue. But on this past Monday, more than 50 dancers were practicing their plies and pirouettes at the Delaware Ballet in preparation for this weekend’s performance of “The Nutcracker” at Delaware State University.

“We have classes for technique every weekday and rehearsal all weekend,” said 18-year-old Madison Wahlstein. “And I take a few AP classes so it can get difficult to balance it all, but it’s worth it.”

Madison is on the upper end of the age range, with the youngest dancers in the cast in only second grade and the oldest in college.

Samantha Land and Anthony Jumao-As are both students at Delaware Technical Community College and were members of the Delaware Ballet during their high school years. After many “Nutcracker” shows, they’re back again this year.

“Since we stayed local for college and we both love dance, we kept up with it as a fun way to stay in shape but when (artistic director) Brittany (Faulkingham) asked us to do ‘The Nutcracker’ again, we couldn’t say no,” said Samanta, who plays The Snow Queen.

For others like Noel Majka, a senior in high school, this is their last year performing “The Nutcracker.”

“It’s really sad because I really love doing this show every year but I got into my first choice for college and I’ll still be dancing there, so I have that to look forward to,” she said.

She’ll be ending her time with the Delaware Ballet playing one of the lead roles, the Sugar Plum Fairy, in the 25th anniversary production, which unlike most of the roles has a pas de dux — a partner dance.

“I’m great friends with my partner, Anthony,” she said. “I was the Snow Queen last year so we’ve danced together before. And it’s fun to dance with your friend and it makes rehearsal more fun.”

Although dancers like Noel, Madison, Samantha and Anthony like ballet for reasons like staying in shape and performing before large audiences, the younger dancers have different ideas of what makes ballet fun.

“My favorite part is in the party scene at the beginning,” 10-year-old Hayden Cuccinello said. “Drosselmeyer (played by Luis Rios) does some really cool magic. The audience thinks it’s real, but we know how he does most of it.”

And 9-year-old Abby LaMotte’s favorite part of her role, a polichinelle, is the entrance.

“We come onto the stage under this big dress,” she said. “It’s supposed to be our mother, but it’s really a man on stilts wearing a dress. It’s really fun because we all have to crouch together.”

Ms. Faulkingham is directing the ballet for the third time this year and remembers her early days dancing with the Delaware Ballet in roles like Abby and Hayden.

“I did ‘The Nutcracker’ for about 12 years or so,” she said. “It seems like so long ago but I remember being in the party scene and some of the little kid roles but now I’m on the opposite side, teaching all of them.”

Ms. Faulkingham has been heading up the Delaware Ballet since her father, Dan Kaiser, stepped down as artistic director after more than 20 years.

“It’s nice to have him there because there are times when everything is crazy and I know I can call him and ask for advice if there’s any sort of crisis,” she said.

“He did it for so long. He ran into almost every complication there could be. So he’s a great resource.”

Although many years have passed since Ms. Faulkingham’s first “Nutcracker” under her father’s direction, a lot has stayed the same.

“There have been new sets, new costumes, some other small changes here and there but for the most part it’s the same,” she said.

“I think that’s one of the great things about ‘The Nutcracker’ though. It’s a tradition.”

Before the show opens to the public, the Delaware Ballet performs “The Nutcracker” for school groups coming for field trips.

“It’s a lot of fun because the kids are so excited to see the show,” Madison said. “They clap at the most random times and it’s a good confidence boost before we do our public shows.”

“It’s going to be a great show,” Ms. Faulkingham said. “We’ve had a strict rehearsal schedule and everyone’s worked really hard and I think that everyone who comes will be able to see that all the hard work has paid off.”

Others in the cast include Isabella Gibbs as Clara, Emma Elliott as The Nutcracker and Alyssa Lahutsky as The Mouse King.

Delaware Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” will take the stage at Delaware State University’s Education and Humanities Theater today at 7 p.m. and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets are available at the door and $10 for students and seniors and $15 for adults.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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