Still cracking

The Nutcracker

Amy Foster dances in rehearsal with Jekyns Pelaez. Nicole Shutt looks on in the background.

Amy Foster dances in rehearsal with Jekyns Pelaez. Nicole Shutt looks on in the background.

Photo By David Robert

A girl, no older than 12, performs a series offlips across the rehearsal stage at A.V.A Ballet Theater. She lands, then immediately rebounds into a series of back flips. I’m ridiculously impressed as she repeats the process several times, trying to stick her landing.

She’s one of about 140 cast members from around the region and the world appearing in A.V.A Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker, coming to the Pioneer Center this weekend and now entering its 12th year. Artistic director and founder Alexander Van-Alstyne—a professional dancer, formerly with the Boston Ballet, Ballet West and the Utah Ballet—has made use of his vast network of connections to cast several renowned professionals in the show.

Dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier are Lauren Main de Lucia and Jekyns Pelaez, respectively, of the Bay Area’s Diablo Ballet. The Snow King and Queen are Peter Brandenhoff, most recently of the San Francisco Ballet, and Mayo Sugano of the Tokyo Ballet. The role of Drosselmeyer, the eccentric old man who presents the nutcracker in this story, is performed by William Patrick Pizzuto, who was not only a finalist in the Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria, but who also has appeared with the Boston Ballet on stage with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

“This is an extremely professional production,” says Van-Alstyne. “It’s important for this community to have strong arts productions. There are a lot of extremely talented dancers here that I’d love to have stay rather than going to another larger company, so I want to build a very professional company that they can grow with.”

One of these local dancers is Maegen Price-Lundstrom, a 17-year-old Sparks High student. She began with The Nutcracker 12 years ago as a member of the show’s opening party scenes. She gradually worked her way up to Mirliton, one of the toy flute players. This year, she’ll appear as a demi-soloist in the “Waltz of the Flowers,” as well as a lead soldier and a lead in the “Waltz of the Snow Flakes.”

“The ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ is over six minutes, and all eyes are on you,” she says. “So we’re really focused on keeping up with our partners. My partner is 22, so the dance is exhausting, and we’re really working when we’re up there to make sure we appear to be at the same level and are staying together.”

She explains that resident dancers are required to take a minimum of three dance classes, along with attending all rehearsals, so their lives are essentially about dancing. The result is that A.V.A Ballet Theater is a tight family. And the visiting professionals?

“Their influence makes us all want to try harder and smile bigger,” says Price-Lundstrom.

The Nevada Opera Youth Chorus and the Reno Philharmonic will accompany the dancers. Price-Lundstrom says that dancing with an orchestra is quite different from rehearsing with a CD—instead of waiting on the music to cue them, the orchestra adjusts their pace to the dancers, which offers them plenty of control and helps to ensure flawless timing.

The magic of the show, says Van-Alstyne, is in those details, which even include carolers entertaining the audience members as they line up for their tickets.

“Everyone in this show gives their hearts and souls to the audience,” he says. “And that’s what people will really enjoy.”