'Nutcracker' dreams realized

Pair of local dancers play principal roles in local holiday production

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter


photoClaire Sturtevant, from left, Emma Sturtevant, Emma Miller, Amanda Bryan and Lillian Collins dance in "Holiday Dance Story," presented by Dance Fusion Northwest Dec. 8 and 9 at Fort Vancouver High School.

It's that time of year again, when pointe shoes will be worn thin and hundreds of local dancers don tutus and ballet slippers to bring "The Nutcracker" to life.

This holiday season, four productions — three of them "Nutcrackers" — feature Clark County students dancing roles from the youngest little angels to complex pas de deux principal roles with dance partners that require extensive training.

Two high school seniors, Lauren Herrmann and Autumn Cassity, will share the coveted principal roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker" presented by Columbia Dance from Dec. 14-16.

“The Nutcracker” in a nutshell

• In 1891, the Russian Imperial Ballet commissioned P.I. Tchaikovsky to write the musical score.

• The ballet debuted December 18, 1892, at the Maryinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, with Czar Alexander III in attendance.

• The first American production, by the San Francisco Ballet, debuted on December 24, 1944.

• From 1913-1921, George Balanchine studied at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince.

• In 1948, Balanchine founded the New York City Ballet. He debuted his own “Nutcracker” on February 2, 1954.

• Today, 121 years after Tchaikovsky first composed his music, “The Nutcracker” is a timeless holiday tradition for many families.

A dancer since age 6, Herrmann said the jumps are the biggest challenge of the athletic 12-minute Sugar Plum Fairy segment in Act II.

"It's challenging getting off the floor and having the energy and stamina to get through that last part and look like we're having the time of our lives," she said.

A full-time Running Start student, Herrmann, 17, takes three hours of classes daily at Clark College, does her homework, gets dressed for dance class and heads to the Columbia Dance studio. During the school year, as a member of the senior company, she spends four hours a day — every day except Sunday — dancing. When the studio ramps up for "Nutcracker," Sunday practices are added.

"Dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy is definitely my favorite role," Herrmann said. "It's very regal, graceful. We get to wear pretty tutus. It's every little girl's dream."

After her sophomore year, she completed a summer dance intensive workshop with the Boston Ballet, and last summer did the same with Ballet West in Salt Lake City and State Street Ballet in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Next spring, when Herrmann graduates from Skyview High School, she'll also graduate from Clark with her associate's degree. She's considering colleges with strong dance programs, such as the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, which offers students training with the professional dance company Ballet West. If the opportunity arises, she may forgo college to pursue a professional dance career, perhaps with National Ballet of Canada in Toronto.

"My family's been very supportive," Herrmann said of her "Nutcracker" involvement.

Her father operates the spotlight that follows the principal dancers around the stage. He helps lay the marley dance floors and helps unload and load all the sets, props and costumes on either end of the production. Her mother volunteers backstage and as an usher for performances. This is a common theme for dance families. Cassity's mother volunteers backstage and wherever needed.

Cassity, 17, a senior at CAM Academy in Battle Ground, started dancing at age 3. When she saw her first "Nutcracker" at age 6, she was determined to one day dance the role of the Snow Queen. That dream has become a reality.

She keeps up her grades by doing homework during lunch and late at night after she's finished dancing. At school, she's vice president of the National Honor Society and president of the InterAct Club.

Last summer, she received a full merit scholarship for a three-week intensive workshop with Ballet Austin in Austin, Texas. She plans to audition for professional dance companies in January and February, and ideally would like to dance with Complexions, a contemporary ballet company in New York City. Her backup plan is earning a double major in dance and secondary education with an emphasis in mathematics.

But for now, life revolves around "Nutcracker."

Columbia Dance presents “The Nutcracker”

Details: Celebrating its 25th year, Columbia Dance presents its 15th "The Nutcracker," set in 1850s New England.

Artistic director: Jan Hurst.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 14; 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 15; 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Dec. 16.

Where: Royal Durst Theatre, Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, 3101 Main St.

Tickets: $18 adults, $10 children 12 and younger. Purchase tickets: online at columbiadance.org, or in person at Columbia Dance Studio, 1700 Broadway; Divine Consign, 904 Main St.; Beacock Music, 1420 S.E. 163rd Ave.; or at the door, subject to availability.

Phone: 360-737-1922.

Website: columbiadance.org/

Dance Fusion Northwest presents “Holiday Dance Story”

Details: This original program of tap, jazz, hip-hop and contemporary dance mediums, in addition to acting and vocal performances, features music from the Andrews Sisters to Sting. It tells the story of a young mother and her daughter celebrating Christmas Eve in the midst of financial struggles.

Artistic director: Carla Kendall-Bray.

When: 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 8; 2 p.m. Dec. 9.

Where: Fort Vancouver High School, 5700 E. 18th St.

Tickets: $12 adults, $6 students younger than 18. Purchase tickets online, at the studio, 14413 N.W. 10th Ave., Suite A-101, or at the door.

Phone: 360-521-9973.

Website: dancefusionnw.com

Northwest Classical Ballet presents “The Nutcracker”

Details: This production features original choreography, guest artists and NCB company dancers.

Artistic director: Maricar Drilon.

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 1; 2 p.m. Dec. 1 and 2.

Where: Prairie High School Auditorium, 11500 N.E. 117th Ave.

Tickets: $15; purchase online at nwclassicalballet.com; at the studio, 14511 N.E. 10th Ave., Suite D; or at Aurora Gallery, 1004 Main St.

Phone: 888-487-7454.

Website: nwclassicalballet.com

Oregon Ballet Theater presents “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”

Details: Portland's professional ballet company is the only company on the West Coast licensed to perform Balanchine's version of "The Nutcracker." The production has 97 children — nine from Clark County — dancing a total of 65 roles.

Artistic director: Christopher Stowell.

When: 2 p.m. Dec. 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.

Where: Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay, Portland.

Tickets: Start at $16; purchase online.

Phone: 503-222-5538.

Website: obt.org/season_nutcracker.html

Dancing "The Nutcracker" is not for sissies

Although elegant dancers are dressed in yards of white tulle, they are trained athletes who deal with injuries — some of them gross.

I know because I was a ballet mom, deep in the Nutcracker trenches. This time of year, I might be in the grocery store when I hear a snippet of familiar holiday muzak — Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" — transporting me back to the years my daughter, Katie, danced in "The Nutcracker."

That first year, she was a second-grader dancing the role of a little angel. I was backstage with the other ballet moms, curling angel hair into long ringlets and keeping the dancers entertained while they waited for their cue.

And so it went for eight years. Each production, Katie and her classmates moved to a more complex dance. My daughter was a mouse, a child of Mother Ginger, a Russian soldier, a flower, an Arabian attendant and finally, no longer a little girl but a young woman playing a snowflake, dancing on her toes in pointe shoes.

Some weeks, our family — and all the other ballet families — spent hours at the studio. Katie's dad helped on the tech crew backstage. I wrote press releases and volunteered at the "front of house" selling raffle tickets. My son, Conor, was the only "Nutcracker" holdout. He'd seen the show so many times that he didn't understand why we wouldn't let him play his Gameboy during performances.

During her freshman year, early in the "Nutcracker" rehearsal season, Katie developed a painful toe injury. Eventually, one of her big toenails turned black, and it was extremely painful for her to wear any kind of shoe. At the medical clinic, a hole was drilled into her toenail to allow the toe to drain and to begin healing. It didn't work. During the next trip to the clinic, Katie's toenail was removed. The pain was excruciating. She still couldn't wear shoes, let alone pointe shoes that allowed her to dance on her toes.

Her "Nutcracker" season was cut short. She became interested in other pursuits, and dance was replaced with costuming, baking and more time with friends.

Now my kids are young adults, and I haven't attended "The Nutcracker" since my daughter's last performance. But wherever I am during the holidays, when I hear the music, I stop a moment and recall a little angel with her long hair in ringlets and white satin slippers on her feet.Dancing on their toes, principal dancers can wear out a pair of pointe shoes — costing a minimum of $50 — during one performance.