Bringing the ballet back

L'Ecole de Ballet to perform classical 'The Nutcracker' ballet over Thanksgiving weekend after a three-year hiatus from downtown scene

Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2005

L'Ecole de Ballet, the 12-year-old ballet company based out of the American Legion hall in Auke Bay, returns to the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium Thanksgiving weekend for its first in-town production of "The Nutcracker" since 2002.

The company made Tchaikovsky's holiday classic a tradition for several years, starting in the mid-1990s. In 2003, L'Ecole took the performance to Wrangell, where the dancers were stricken with the Norwalk virus after riding an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry. Last year, they deferred to the Oregon Ballet Theater, which brought its touring company for a pared-down version of the play with George Balanchine's fabled choreography.

"It's very nice to be back here and be able to do this in front of people you know," said Rebecca Salsman, 15, a home-schooled student and an eighth-year L'Ecole dancer.

"We have a lot of different dancers than we've usually had; we have a lot of new little kids," she said. "But other than that, it's pretty much the same. We use everybody in the play and we use them a lot, and I think the crowd really gets into that. Because our 'Nutcracker' has been around such a long time and everybody knows it."

L'Ecole has a small company. The cast numbers 45, five or six of whom are advanced dancers. Many of the actors are beginning students, 5 to 6 years old, and parents.

L'Ecole de Ballet

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium

Tickets: $16 adults, $12 for youth ages 12 and under, $10 per person for families of four or more; available from Hearthside Books, cast members or at the door.

"All of our main dancers have changed, and everyone was automatically put in different positions," Salsman said. Our 'Nutcracker' has been the same for such a long time, it's nice to have challenges."

"We do it in the full classical version, which I think is pretty cool," said Lael Rogers, 13, a home-schooled student who's been with L'Ecole for about seven years. "You can have variations or interpretations of the ballet, and you can change 'The Nutcracker' into modern day, but we do it in old times."

Marissa Capito, back in town after a year at college in Anchorage, has been in all of L'Ecole's previous productions of the ballet. She normally plays the Sugar Plum Fairy but has switched to the roles of Grandma and the Arabian Dancer. She also acts as teacher, assisting Artistic Director Patti Mattison.

"It's hard, because a lot of people have to dance different parts," Capito said. "They have to dance two solos, and they'll have a minute and a half to change into an entirely different costume. Somehow we always make it work. I'm really impressed with how strong the girls have been. They're just pumping it out all the time. Sometimes we rehearse for 4 12 hours a day and they manage to keep it chugging along."

L'Ecole still performs with the same sets from its original production of the ballet. Mattison has made every costume by hand.

"The choreography has changed a great deal," Mattison said. "It's much more complex than it was, because the students are learning more and have more ability."

"It's as classic as we can make it without getting into copyright problems," she said. "It's classical in the sense that it follows the same format, and it's the complete ballet, with the exception this year of maybe one short piece or two. Other than that, everything is the same."

Zoey Wilson, 13, an eighth-grader at Floyd Dryden Middle School, will play the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Wilson has been with L'Ecole for three years. Before that, she danced with Juneau Dance Unlimited. Some may remember her as the star of Northern Light Junior Theater's spring 2004 production of "Heidi."

"It's the way these steps are put together that makes it difficult," Wilson said. "It's challenging, but after you practice it, it's not that bad."

Wilson performed in a version of "Nutcracker" when she was 5. She used to travel to Seattle every winter to visit her grandparents and see the Pacific Northwest Ballet's professional version of the ballet. Her grandparents have since moved.

"Whenever you go to those ballets, you just get this new flash of inspiration, and you're like, 'I'm going to do that some day,'" Wilson said.

Luis Rosas, a 27-year-old from Mexico City, will play the role of the Cavalier. He took 1 12 years of jazz dance classes in Mexico and has studied modern dance, jazz and ballet with JDU and L'Ecole since moving here four years ago. He's been dancing with L'Ecole for six months.

This will be the biggest performance of his career, so far.

"I'm excited, but at the same time, I'm a little bit nervous," Rosas said. "It's just a little bit hard. I'm trying to do my best."

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