‘The Nutcracker’ dazzles at Dover High

DOVER — Back for its 22nd year is the Ballet Theatre of Dover’s rendition of “The Nutcracker” this weekend at Dover High School.

In the weeks leading to the performances, dancers in leotards and pointe shoes are rehearsing up to three hours a day, even on weeknights as late as 10 p.m.

“It can be a little difficult to keep things balanced,” said Ana Pavon, 17, a senior in high school who drives to and from Chestertown, Md., every day to dance the dual role of Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“I’m doing dual enrollment so I’m taking some college classes now too but I would say we all work hard on dance and school as well.”

Parent Sharon Gibbs of Dover said ballet classes and long rehearsals have been beneficial for her daughter, Trinity August.

“She’s a straight-A student despite all the rehearsals, science projects, and other school activities,” she said.

“All of the dancers are great students and I think it has to do with (Ballet Theatre of Dover artistic director) Teresa Emmons teaching them about responsibility and by doing an activity that is so time consuming, the dancers learn time management skills from a young age which is very important and will be great for them in the long run.”

Ms. Gibbs is stepping on the stage for “The Nutcracker” for the first time this year after years in the audience.

The party scene near the beginning of the production requires adult actors so the Theatre recruits parents, volunteers and local actors to participate.

“I’m used to sitting in the waiting room and watching from the audience so stepping into rehearsal has been amazing and really interesting since I’ve been watching from the outside,” Ms. Gibbs said.

She was also able to convince her two sons to join the party scene cast as well.

Despite running for more than two decades, directing the performance never gets old for Ms. Emmons.

“This is a performance that has everything,” she said. “You have a love story, the concepts of good versus evil and trusting with your heart, not your eyes, an element of magic and of course the multicultural aspect that is brought in with the dances of various styles from Arabian to Chinese and more.”

The performers love coming back for the show year after year as well, mainly because every year there’s a new part to learn.

“I started out 11 years ago as an Angel and now I’m playing Clara and Sugar Plum for the second time,” Ana said.

“I’ve loved having a new part every year and even now having a role for the second time, it’s great because there’s always something to work on. I’ve watched recordings of last year and I noticed things I want to improve and so I’ve definitely been working hard to make it an even better performance than last year.”

Although she’s participated for 11 years and had numerous roles, Ana said there are still parts she’s never danced and she wishes she could have had the chance to dance all of them, but with 60 participants in the production, there’s no way to have done every part, even over the course of a decade.

She is joined in the production this year by guest artist, Seva Vsevolod, from the Ukraine, who plays The Nutcracker Prince.

Other primary roles will be danced by Phoenix Riehl, Renei Friend, Hannah Nagyiski, Alexandra Pelletier, Ryan Smallwood and Daijiah Cummings. Paul Janiga is back again this year to play Clara’s uncle, Herr Drosselmyer.

The very first performance in 1995 was a collection of scenes from “The Nutcracker” and had a cast of fewer than 40. After the success of the first performance, Ms. Emmons decided to direct the entire show the next year and with a larger performance came a larger cast and an ever-growing rotation of dancers — many of whom had become accustomed to performing at The Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover, which closed its doors in June.

But this year, the group had to find a new venue and the choice was obvious — Dover High School’s auditorium.

Ms. Emmons is an instructor for the school’s Academy of the Arts, so it was easy to secure the space.

The Dover High theater has more seats and a larger stage than the Schwartz Center, giving the dancers more space to perform and a chance to maximize the set.

“It’s amazing,” Ms. Emmons said. “Our entire rehearsal floor could fit within Dover High’s stage and usually we have to roll in the edges of the backdrop, but now we can expand it to its full size.”

Ms. Emmons was an integral part of planning and designing the state-of-the-art stage and auditorium for the school, which opened in 2014, wanting to make it a resource for the community which it has been, hosting theater productions and even professional music ensembles in conjunction with the Academy of the Arts.

Ms. Emmons said bringing such a variety of performances to Dover High will increase interest in the arts.

“It really works as a collaboration because someone may come who is interested in ballet or dance but see that there is an upcoming musical performance so it’s an opportunity to expand people’s interests and for the performing groups to share and grow their audiences,” she said.

Some dancers like Phoenix Riehl are students at Dover High so the performance will be a unique experience.

“When I go into rehearsal and the show, I try not to think of it as my school and the place for the Academy of the Arts, but it will be nice to perform on a stage I’m familiar with,” she said.

Phoenix is playing the role of Dew Drop this year — a role she’s been hoping to dance for a long time.

“I’m a little nervous, but not too stressed,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to this role and it suits my strengths and what I love, especially all the turns. And I’m excited to do it all at Dover High, especially under all the great lights the stage has.”

The lighting system is so intricate that the Ballet Theatre is bringing in a professional from the University of Delaware to ensure the high-quality lighting is used to its potential for the show.

Performances will take place at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors, $17 for students and $12 for children 12 and under and may be purchased at the door or by calling 734-9717.

A Nutcracker Tea will also be held with petit fours, pastries, desserts, Tea and hot chocolate Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the school.

Tickets for that event are $12 for children 12 and below and $ 18 for adults.

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