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A bigger, better 'Nutcracker'

Rasmuson grant allows Juneau Dance Unlimited to expand its annual production

Posted: Thursday, December 04, 2008

Juneau Dance Unlimited has been packaging its biggest and best holiday gift to the community yet, with an expanded version of its annual "The Nutcracker" ballet.

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Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire

The local dance company is using a $20,000 grant it received from the Rasmuson Foundation to unveil the talents of more than 35 students, as well as featured guest artists Kristie Cordle-Infante and Vitaliy Nechay from the California Ballet Company in San Diego. The grant has allowed the company to present the ballet in its full length for the first time as well as purchase new costumes and develop its set.

"It's an expanded production from what we've done in the past," Board President Troy Wilson said. "We have two out-of-town performers that will be coming that will be able to provide some added entertainment and provide Juneau with something we don't often get to see, as far as the quality of their dance."

The ballet will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 5, and Saturday, Dec. 6, in the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. It will also be performed in the auditorium at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, immediately followed by the second annual Sugar Plum Fairy Party in the high school commons. The party, a fundraiser for the dance company, will feature photos, food, storytelling and magic.

Juneau-Douglas High School senior Cailey Neary, a longtime JDU student performing in her fourth Nutcracker, said she is excited to participate in the biggest ballet the local dance company has staged to date.

"We have all sorts of new costumes and a new snow set, which I haven't seen yet but I've heard is gorgeous," she said. "I'm really excited to see it."

Neary said the holiday season basically begins in the fall for the dancers.

"You're listening to this Christmas music for hours every week starting like the beginning of school," Neary said. "But it's always nice and it's sort of like once we perform 'The Nutcracker' it's the beginning of what Christmas is for me."

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed "The Nutcracker" in the late 19th century, but it wasn't until the 1940s that the San Francisco Ballet first performed it in the United States. Over the decades it has become ingrained in the American holiday tradition.

"For the community it has been a tradition over the years. There have been other groups in town that have done it but JDU has done it for the last several years," Wilson said. "It's been great to see things grow into what they are this year. And certainly with the holiday season and stuff, I think the community really looks forward to this performance each year."

The ballet revolves around a young girl who receives a nutcracker doll for Christmas that inspires a grand adventure.

"Her family throws a Christmas party and at the end of the night (she) basically goes to sleep dreaming of the things that surrounded her that evening, one of which was a gift that she got from her uncle ... a nutcracker doll," said Cordle-Infante, who plays the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

In her dreams, the young girl is transported on a journey where everything gets bigger and she must overcome various challenges.

"She basically fights the mice and deals with the soldiers and goes through all this stuff and falls in love with her nutcracker doll, which is turned into a nutcracker prince," Cordle-Infante said.

The girl is rewarded for her courage and bravery and is invited to the Land of Sweets where she is treated to a variety of special performances, including by the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier, performed by Nechay.

Cordle-Infante said having the role of the Cavalier performed this year for the first time will add a new dimension to the production.

"Now that we've got a boy we can do some fancier things, like lifts and turns and things," she said. "That is definitely, I guess you could say, a little bit more theatrical. So that will definitely be something new and exciting for the audiences of JDU."

Even though "The Nutcracker" revolves around a Christmas theme, it's a ballet with much more to offer than simply holiday flare, Cordle-Infante said.

"'The Nutcracker' is something that everyone can love and everyone can get something out of," she said. "I think it's got a little bit of something for everybody of all ages."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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