Community efforts expand 'Nutcracker' this season

The Nutcracker: Two Naples community productions

Naples dancers perform The Nutcracker.

George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”

Miami City Ballet and young local dancers

When: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd, Naples

Cost: $59 adults; $25 students

Information/tickets: 597-1900, www.thephil.org

“The Nutcracker Goes Pop!”

What: Naples Players KidzAct, along with dance students and Golden Gate High School students

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5; 2 p.m. Dec. 6

Where: Golden Gate High School, 2925 Titan Way, Naples

Cost: $10 adults, $5 younger than 18

Information and tickets: 263-7009

“The Nutcracker”

What: Naples Ballet, along with professional dancers and community participants, present the classic.

When: 5 p.m., Dec. 12; 12 p.m., Dec. 13

Where: Gulf Coast High School auditorium, 7878 Shark Way, Naples

Cost: $15 to $30 depending on where you sit, kids in laps are free

Information: 732-1000, www.naplesacademyofballet.com

“The Nutcracker"

What: A session of ornament making and cookie decorating for children, followed by a performance by Barron Collier High School students

When: Ornament making and cookie decorating 1-2 p.m.; performances 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Dec. 19

Where: Barron Collier High School auditorium, 5600 Cougar Drive, Naples

Cost: $10 purchased in advance, $12 at the door

Information, tickets: 777-3933, coachkristina@aol.com

“Great Russian Nutcracker”

The Moscow Ballet performs a classically choreographed version.

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 28

Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 8099 College Parkway, Fort Myers

Cost: $27.50 to $99 depending on where you sit

Information, tickets: (239) 481-4849, www.bbmannpah.com

You wouldn’t expect a police officer and an accountant to dance in “The Nutcracker.”

But this year, they — and dozens of other local dancers — get their chance to perform in the classic Christmas ballet.

Naples Ballet and Barron Collier High School are staging separate productions with the same goal in mind: Making a sometimes inaccessible art form enjoyable for performers and audiences of all ages. They are two of five organizations, which include Naples Players’ KidzAct and high-power performances from the Miami City Ballet and the Moscow Ballet (see the accompanying story for information on all.) presenting versions of the classic fairy tale locally this season.

The community productions by Naples Ballet and Barron Collier High, like that of KidzAct, have lower ticket prices than professional performances, and they’re angling their shows toward family audiences.

“The whole purpose of our Nutcracker is to include anybody who loves to dance,” says Toshiko Tompkins, owner and director of the Naples Academy of Ballet and founder of the non-profit Naples Ballet. “That’s why we had placements not auditions. ... A lot of people think (ballet) is hard to understand, but it’s not. We want everybody to understand that dance movement is joyful.”

* * *

Ballerinas in black leotards and pink tights pad between small studios and the large rehearsal space at the Naples Academy of Ballet, zipping each other into ribbon-decorated party dresses and pining hair into buns.

Meanwhile, adults mill around, going over their parts and pulling skirts over work clothes for the rehearsal. Only one of the adults practicing tonight is a professional ballet dancer — the rest are parents, adult ballet students and volunteers.

“I started ballet in about 1985 when I was ferrying a daughter to dance class,” says Juliana Kierstein, 63, who is playing the grandmother. “It’s a good mental challenge and it’s a real change from what I do during the day — I’m an accountant.”

Naples Ballet, a non-profit created by the Naples Academy of Ballet, is putting on the production with about 75 dancers. Four professional dancers from ballet companies in Sarasota, Orlando and New York will perform the parts of Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy duet, but the rest are local students and volunteers.

“We hope everyone enjoys it and gets into the Christmas spirit,” says Tompkins, the school owner, as she fixes a pink ballet shoe for a ballerina.

Costumes on, the dancers take their places. Ballet master Konstantin Kolotov pulls a remote control of his pocket and pushes a button. Tchaikovsky’s orchestral music pours from the four speakers in each corner of the room: Trumpets announce, strings answer and the dancers spring into motion.

Eight ballerinas in party dresses dance in the center, flanked by adults playing party guests. Among them is Kierstein, as the grandmother, and Joseph Bilings, a police officer for the Collier County Sheriff’s office, dancing as a party guest. His 4-year-old daughter is also in the show, and when they asked for male volunteers, he signed up.

Clara, danced by understudy Sabrina Philipp, 15, swirls into the center of the room, en pointe, her red party dress swishing around her legs. The music reaches a climax and she finishes on her toes, arms lifted gracefully.

Philipp, who has five parts in the ballet, has also danced in professional Nutcracker productions. She’s a sophomore at Naples High and she takes lessons at the Naples Academy of Ballet.

“My holidays aren’t complete without ‘The Nutcracker,’” she says. “I’ve danced with big companies like Miami or Orlando, but here everyone can be involved and there isn’t such a distance between the professional dancers and the rest of us. It’s friends and family.”

* * *

It’s only 7:15 a.m., but students at Barron Collier High School are already transforming into mice, soldiers and clowns for their dress rehearsal of “The Nutcracker.”

“This is another layer of the band activities that we do,” says Kelly Parker, the school’s band director, watching the ballet’s director divvy up costumes. “It involves all of the auxiliary, the dancers, the flag twirlers, and there are some open spots for other students.”

Five minutes later, the room fills with about 40 girls dressed as brightly colored clowns, called “polis” or polichinelles in French, mice with grey and pink ears, soldiers and party guests. They futz with their outfits, tying lace sashes, pulling at jackets and joking about how manly they are if they’re playing boys or men.

About 80 students are participating and they’re all girls, says Kristina Adamski, the auxiliary instructor. This is their second year putting on the production. Soon, at Adamski’s direction, the students pad on soft, ballet-slipper feet out of the band room, across the hall and into the dimly lit auditorium.

“The kids really enjoy it. It’s different from the other performances they do,” says Adamski, 22, a former Barron Collier student who has studied ballet since she was 3 years old. “Ballet is not in the school system, but we’re trying to put it there.”

After rehearsing the Christmas party scene, the students hang their costumes and file out, replaced by another group of dancers. These are the students who have more dance experience, Adamski says, distributing costumes to the new group. In this class, she has dancers from the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy: candy canes, marzipan, tea and chocolate.

Alyssa Morrow, 14, sits on the floor as Denisha Dindayal, 16, carefully combs her long, straight hair into a dancer’s bun. Last year, Denisha, a junior, danced as a candy cane, flower and Spanish chocolate.

“It’s soo much fun,” she says, “I just love performing. I’ve always loved ‘The Nutcracker’ and our school does a really good job putting it on. They give you parts that you want, and say, ‘We can work with what you can do and help you improve.’”

“I’m excited because I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Alyssa says.

Meanwhile, three girls dressed as marzipan practice in the back of the room between backpacks on the floor and dancers getting dressed. They moved their bodies gracefully, pink, yellow and orange tulle skirts floating around their hips.

Moments later, they pause and pad into the auditorium. It’s time to go on stage and put their dance to music.

Connect with Katy Bishop at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katy_bishop

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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