Who's minding the mice?

Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2009

The mice are loose.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

"Who's minding the mice?" Juneau Dance Unlimited Artistic Director Janice Hurley asks frantically. "I haven't seen the mice."

One would think, in a production as astute as The Nutcracker, only an adult CEO with multi-tasking ability and years of corporate experience could coordinate so many characters with so many costumes. That is where 13-year-old Corby Able comes in.

"I have the mice sitting quietly," Able answers as she hurries through a sea of costumed ballerinas. "Now where is the Mouse King's head?"

Able started dancing at age four, took a tiny break and has been with JDU now for five years. Due to an injury this year she missed the Nutcracker audition but has taken on the task of prop mistress.

"I take care of all the props and I pretty much just do all the back stage work," Able said. "I'm always nervous that I am going to miss a cue, I'm probably one of the most nervous people here."

JDU will celebrate 35 years as a non-profit in April. They offer dance instruction and fine arts training for professional dancers from age three to adult in classical ballet, modern jazz-fusion, hip-hop, and creative movement and then try to find various performance experiences for them, such as "The Nutcracker." Able helps the production run smoothly.

In one moment she will be sharing tips with principle dancers and in the next fixing a costume malfunction.

"Cody, stop," Able says and attends to nine-year-old Cody Johnson's clown makeup. Next she will help costume 64-year-old Bob Fagen as Mother Ginger. Johnson has danced just three months, Fagen started 15 years ago. He will stand on stilts for an extended period of time; Johnson is too excited to stand still.

"You are here; you are with her," Able ushers couplings of dancers into the Mother Ginger costume. "You need to pin this up... Mother Ginger is definitely the most difficult to get costumed. She's wearing a metal skirt and "she" is actually Bob, so that is always very interesting."

While the principle dancers need less assistance, JDU has numerous supporting roles that require more than the mothers that accompany them can provide. Many of the aforementioned baby mice ( Grace Hudson, Megan Lujan, Ambrosia Woodgate), mice (Carissa Anderson, Anastasia Hobson-George, Carlie Kollar, Tori Martin, Natalie Millay, Mackenzie Parker, Onyeah Sholty, Jasmine Stanturf), and soldiers (Sierra Baker, Kate Bergey, Annie Hagen, Johnson, Sabrina Jones, Anna McDowell, Lily Otsea, Kara Sepel, Sydney Truitt, Megan Weston); will change into angels and polichinelles (clowns).

"We try to set a traditional 'Nutcracker,'" Hurley said. She started teaching for JDU in 2003 and became artistic director in 2004. "We couldn't do all that without her organization."

Able dashes behind a large costume changing board to assist an angel. She pauses as soldiers march by, mice drop whiskered snouts, and a voice calls out for a missing pair of tights. She picks up a yellowish chunk of foam.

"It is actually very fun," Able said. "There is a whole dance back stage that no one sees.... Whose cheese is this?"

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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