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The cast of 200 includes RCB members student dancers and local kids.
(Photo: Gene Turner)

 

A Rochester Tradition
The city’s resident ballet troupe delights.

By SHEILA LEVADAS

English toffee, sugar plums and Italian ice. What sounds like a luscious dessert buffet actually describes some of the sweet treats in Rochester City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” scheduled for 2 and 7 p.m., Nov. 27-29, 2009, at the Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall.

RCB will dance the fairy-tale ballet to live music performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Nazareth College of Rochester’s Bach Children’s Chorus. Among the cast of 200 are company members along with student dancers, guest artists and local kids. Artistic director Jamey Leverett steers the whole crew.

Following the escapades of a German girl and her come-to-life toy, “The Nutcracker” has found a home at ballet companies across the globe. RCB’s production has original elements sprinkled throughout, from extra dancing confections in the Land of Sweets to an angelic Christmas Spirit.

“The Nutcracker” premiered in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, to Tchaikovsky’s score. The ballet tracks the adventures of Clara Stahlbaum, whose family is having a Christmas Eve party with a glittering tree, mistletoe and all the trimmings.

Cradling the nutcracker in full military regalia that her uncle has given her, Clara falls asleep under the Christmas tree. At midnight, the Nutcracker turns into a prince and escorts her on a journey through a snow kingdom and a candy land.

TWISTS ON THE STORY
Scorned by critics and the public alike at its 19th-century debut, the ballet nearly vanished for more than 50 years, until 1954 when choreographer George Balanchine revived it in New York City. Choreographer Mark Morris unleashed his edgy, postmodern version of the ballet, “The Hard Nut,” in 1991, complete with dancing robots, GI Joes and Barbies.

Like Balanchine and Morris, Timothy Draper—RCB’s late founder—put his own stamp on the ballet. Draper’s career as a dancer, choreographer and teacher had him crisscrossing the globe. Among other pursuits, he performed with the Israel Ballet and served as ballet master for New York City-based Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, which specializes in ballet parodies with men dancing female roles.

In an original segment by Draper that remains in RCB’s “Nutcracker,” the Christmas Spirit, clad in a billowy white and crystal-studded gown, helps Clara’s uncle carry out magical feats and sets the stage for the dream sequence.

“She flies into lots of scenes, so it’s really breathtaking,” Leverett says.
English Toffee and Italian Ice, two other Draper creations, appear in the Land of the Sweets. Costumed in a riding jacket, English Toffee moves across the stage in a blur of diagonal single, double and triple fouette turns, while the Italian Ice segment features a pas de trois.

RCB principal and Rochester native Kaitlin Fitzgerald plays the Arabian Princess in the ballet, a role she dreamed of dancing as a child. The part demands extreme flexibility, which Fitzgerald counts among her strengths.

“Just being able to flow out these different positions and really get into the character” makes the role rewarding, she says.

A SOURCE OF TALENT
A stable of acclaimed dancers has emerged over the years from RCB and its school, the Timothy M. Draper Center for Dance Education. Among the notables is Sarah Lane, an American Ballet Theatre soloist since 2007.

RCB brought in fresh blood in 2008 with the addition of six dancers and three apprentices. Leverett says the company gelled quickly, performing “Peter and the Wolf” for 2,600 area school kids and the public earlier this year.

“It also helps me in my creative process because, as much as I absolutely adore the dancers who’ve been with me for a while here, when you bring in new people, it brings in new energy also,” Leverett says.

RCB’s new company members come from all over. Houston native Brandon Alexander, for one, joined the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago in 2006 as an apprentice, performing various roles including those in “The Nutcracker.” He studied at the Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy on full scholarship and pursued training at the Pacific Northwest Ballet and Boston Ballet.

Rochester native Jessica Tretter studied at the Draper Center and the Ben Stevenson Academy before joining RCB from 1999 to 2003. She went on to the Houston Ballet in 2005, performing in “Dracula” and “Madame Butterfly,” and then headed to Ballet San Antonio in 2007, before returning to RCB.

In its early years, RCB lacked the resources to offer lengthy contracts to dancers. That changed recently, paving the way for the company to make an even deeper impact on Rochester’s arts scene, Leverett says.

“I think that is as big of an accomplishment for Rochester City Ballet as the fact that we’ve had dancers go off and get jobs at major international ballet companies.”

Tickets for “The Nutcracker” are available at www.rpo.org,
454-2100 and area Wegmans stores.

 

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