Visions of sugarplums

The Nutcracker

The younger members of <i>The Nutracker</i> ballet don’t perform with the principal dancers until days before the show.

The younger members of The Nutracker ballet don’t perform with the principal dancers until days before the show.

Photo By David Robert

Three tiny girls run out the open doors of the Nevada Dance Academy. Each wears a body suit, tights and a bun in her hair—very sophisticated at age 6. About 40 of these young people in tights will appear in Nevada Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts.

Is teaching 40 children to dance like herding cats? Actually, no. In fact, Kelli Campbell, assistant rehearsal mistress/administrator for Nevada Ballet Theatre, explains that these young dancers, ages 6 to 24, are treated and expected to behave as professionals.

Nevada Ballet Theatre is based in Las Vegas but hopes to make Reno a regular part of its season. NBT brings Artistic Director Bruce Steivel’s The Nutcracker to the Pioneer for its third year this week.

The company ran ads and sent notices to local dance studios, opening auditions for The Nutcracker to any local child who wanted to dance. No one is excluded from consideration, but once accepted, there’s no funny business. These kids work.

“They’re kept to the same standards as the pros,” Campbell says. “They sign contracts. They’ve been rehearsing every weekend since early October. And they can’t miss rehearsals. They take their commitment, and dance, seriously.”

Even though rehearsals have been happening for months, the Reno dancers didn’t even meet their professional cohorts until just this past week. The Corps de Ballet is comprised of dancers from both Reno and Las Vegas, but the two groups have rehearsed separately, dancing around “invisible” people. It always makes the company nervous but usually works out beautifully.

“It’s fun to see the little ones when the company arrives; their eyes get so big!” says Campbell.

As is the tradition with Nevada Ballet Theatre, the show is all spectacle, complete with extravagant costumes by Parisian designer Alexandre Vassiliev. Production is complex—in the first act, it will “snow” on stage. The Reno Philharmonic accompanies the dancers, which is a treat in itself. It’s a good opportunity to teach the younger cast members how to dance with a live orchestra, which is quite different from the CD that’s cued up for them at rehearsals.

Dancers from Russia, Turkey and Canada head the troupe of Nevada Ballet Theatre professionals. A rotating set of four couples star as Sugarplum Fairy and Prince: Tess Hooley with Zeb Nole; Elena Shokhina with Dereck Townsend; Yoo Mi Lee with Kyu Dong Kwak; and Natalia Chapourskaya with Baris Erhan.

The lead role of Clara will be danced in rotation by two girls from Reno: Elena Gamboa, 11, and Rebekah Pingle, 11. Fritz is played by 15-year-old Zachary Waggoner. Most of the supporting cast members dance multiple parts.

On one of the last rehearsal days, a Corps de Ballet dancer warms up. She stands, places her left hand on the railing, wraps her right hand around her foot and pulls her leg completely over her head. The group of 6-year-olds standing next to her are unimpressed. They simply don’t have time to be amazed. They have rehearsing to do.