‘The Nutcracker’ a Christmas classic at Schwartz Center

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Russian-born guest artist Vassily Lunde plays The Prince and Dover native Jasmine Urban has the dual role The Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara in The Ballet Theatre of Dover’s production of “The Nutcracker” set for Saturday and Sunday at the Schwartz Center. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER –– On Tuesday night, nearly 70 dancers from the Ballet Theatre of Dover were warming up, marking dances and getting fitted for costumes, all in preparation for the final stretch of rehearsals for “The Nutcracker,” coming to the Schwartz Center for the Arts this weekend.

Jasmine Urban was one of the many getting fitted for, in her case, the tutu for her Sugar Plum costume.

Ms. Urban, a graduate of the theatre’s Dance Conservatory and student at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford is back to reprise her role as Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The dual role is one of the most important in the ballet as the familiar story centers around Clara and The Nutcracker.

“It’s a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ kind of tale,” said Teresa Emmons, artistic director of the Ballet Theatre. “You have a prince that was turned into an ugly doll and can only return to his true form with the love from a little girl, Clara. So The Nutcracker transforms back into a prince and Clara transforms into the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

Although Ms. Urban is an alumna of the Ballet Theatre, she was asked back by Ms. Emmons to take on the lead role for a second time.

“I asked Jasmine to come back because she’s an excellent dancer and this year’s cast is young and unfortunately some of our dancers are dealing with sicknesses and injuries,” Ms. Emmons said.

She said bringing back alumni for performing roles is not unusual at the Theatre.

“A lot of our students who go on to further their dance education or become professionals return for classes and training and this is a place they can always call home,” she said.

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Ballet Theatre of Dover artistic director Teresa Emmons of Dover shares a laugh with Paul Janiga of Dover who portrays Herr Drosselmeyer, Clara’s uncle, for a fourth year.

As an alum, preparing for “The Nutcracker” was a different experience for Ms. Urban this year than in years past.

“It’s my second time in the role but this year I wasn’t in town for rehearsals so I’ve had to practice on my own,” she said.

It took dedication and self-discipline to get the role down before she returned to rehearse with the company last week.

“I had to reserve rooms at school to rehearse and since I’ve done the role before I knew what areas I wanted to clean up but I’ve had some of the instructors at the Hartt School watch me and give corrections,” she said.

“It just took a lot of planning because the rooms get booked quickly and I had to make sure the instructors had free time to help me.”

But now, she’s back to rehearse with the company and a new partner, the Russian-born Vassily Lunde. Mr. Lunde is playing the role of the Prince, who Clara sets free from his curse with her love.

Mr. Lunde has been a professional dancer for a decade and now serves as artistic director at Gulf Coast Ballet Theatre in Mississippi although

having made a home with his wife in South Carolina, he considers himself a South Carolinian now.

Ms. Emmons typically uses her connections in the world of dance to bring in guest performers throughout the year. In this case, an instructor at the Dance Conservatory had Mr. Lunde’s number.

“I guess you could say it’s a small community and a lot of who knows who, and one of our teachers has a lot of connections with the American Ballet Theatre and other professional groups,” Mr. Emmons said.

Mr. Lunde has been in the U.S. for only five years and is excited to join the young dancers on stage this weekend.

“Performing is something I’ve loved doing my whole life and performing here isn’t just a good opportunity for me, but for the kids too,” he said. “Some of the kids here may not have not met or worked with a professional dancer so it’s a unique experience for them.”

“The Nutcracker” may seem like it’s all about ballet, but local actors from the community are featured in the non-dancing parts which are front and center at the start of the show.

“[Ms. Emmons] has done a great job choreographing my role for someone who isn’t a dancer,” said Paul Janiga, who plays Herr Drosselmeyer, Clara’s uncle, for a fourth year.

Mr. Janiga is another member of the cast juggling more than one responsibility. He is co-directing “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” for the Kent County Theatre Guild in Dover, which also opens this weekend.

“It’s a lot this weekend for sure but this is such a fun role because I get to do a lot of mime –– that’s what this role is, acting without the words,” he said. “It’s also great to perform in a real theater.”

The Ballet Theatre has been putting on “The Nutcracker” at the Schwartz since 2004.

“It’s a smaller stage than what we used at Central Middle when we were performing there so we had to make some adjustments,” Ms. Emmons said.

“But it’s great for the kids to perform in a real theater and for the audience to come too. They get to enjoy the show along with the velvet chairs and the whole ambiance. There is a huge difference between going to an auditorium and going to a theater.”

Show times are 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets, available at the Schwartz Center, 226 S. State St., are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors, $17 for students and $12 for children 12 and under.

They can also be purchased by visiting www.schwartzcenter.com or calling 678-5152.

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Young students of The Ballet Theatre of Dover rehearse the party scene from “The Nutcracker” Tuesday evening.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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