Preparation for this year’s performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet are well underway. Auditions were held at the end of August with more than 100 Lincoln County student dancers trying out for parts in the production. Now the hard work is underway. These young dancers have been practicing their parts throughout the week and every single weekend without complaint ever since. Sets are being made and costumes are being adapted, altered and new ones added. There was much excitement on Nov. 11 when the entire cast met to practice and to try on their costumes for the first time.
Lincoln County resident Mary Claire Brown is the lead choreographer this year and has changed up the ballet to some extent, using choreographer George Balanchine's version of the ballet.
“My desire is to continue to grow this ballet as a community-based ‘Nutcracker’ for our community,” she said. “The dancers are head over heels excited about this new version. They dance together and all get along. Some of these girls and boys are seniors in high school and they’re getting ready for college yet they still show for ‘Nutcracker’ practice. Then there’s the younger girls who are just getting into it and the older ones are acting as role models. I’m so blessed to be able to do this.”
Last year was the first year Brown was involved in the Lincoln County “Nutcracker.” She choreographed the Waltz of the Snowflakes.
“I started in July getting the choreography ready for ‘The Nutcracker,’” she said. “I have to. Snow (Waltz of the Snowflakes) is six minutes and 18 seconds long – that’s one dance. Waltz of the Flowers is right at six minutes too. There’s choreography going on constantly.”
Every dance number in this year’s production has more dancers included, Brown added. For example, the Spanish Dance last year had only one girl, this year there’s five. There are 13 more for the Russian Dance.
This year, there are two “Claras” – Dream Clara and regular Clara. Playing the part of Dream Clara is Haleigh Curles, a North Lincoln High School student.
“I really wanted this part,” she said. “I’ve been working really hard since last year. I didn’t know that there was going to be a Dream Clara and when I found out about the role, I pushed even harder.”
Curles plans to pursue a career in the medical field and likely won’t continue dancing on a professional level.
The student playing the Nutcracker this year is a senior at Lincolnton High School, Tyson Beal.
“I’ve been dancing since I was seven years old,” he said. “I didn’t really want to, but my sister started dancing one year before me and my mom dragged me into it. Ever since then I’ve fallen in love with it.”
When he graduates, Beal will be enlisting with the U.S. Air Force. This is the first year he tried out for the part of the Nutcracker. Last year he played the part of Drosselmeyer, which is more of an acting part.
While Beal is a slender young man, during some of the dances, he has to lift Curles. This has been a bit of a struggle for him but he’s been working hard at it.
“It’s not so hard now, but it’s more of a trust thing,” he said. “If you trust each other it’ll be a lot easier.”
Preparing the dancers is a momentous task for Brown and the other choreographers. The costumes are another huge undertaking. Enter Robin Bryant, one of the “dance moms” who started helping out with costumes three years ago when it was discovered that the mice costumes had molded.
“We freaked when we found the mold because it was about three weeks before the performance,” she said. “Kelly asked if I could help her. I found the fabric and thanks to my mother, I figured it out and made 10 mouse costumes.”
While Bryant’s mother and grandmother are expert seamstresses, she had never done any sewing before. Since then, she’s become the lead costume lady, assisted by several other dance moms who “live at her house” during Nutcracker season. During the rehearsal on Nov. 11, Bryant fitted all of the dancers to their costumes. A very large corner of Bryant’s home is set aside and framed by wardrobe racks full of Nutcracker costumes, all labeled with the dancer’s names.
“This year there was a lot of changes to ‘The Nutcracker,’” she said. “There are a lot of things that have been added. I started in on it several months ago.”
A lot of the costumes were quite old so new ones were ordered and paid for by sponsors, which is an added facet of community involvement in the ballet. For example, the Arabian Queen costume has been re-done, there’s new to changes to the Spanish and Russian costumes, the Snowflake and Snow Queen costumes are all new as well.
“Sometimes we order costumes and when we get them, they aren’t what you expected so I’ve actually had to go in and change them,” Bryant said. “I’ve added or subtracted to just about all of the costumes. During the recent rehearsal on stage, I was able to see all of the costumes and figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
Bryant has two children who will be dancing in the “Nutcracker” this year. This is the sixth Nutcracker she’s been involved in.
“It’s a lot of work but these girls and boys have really stepped up their game this year,” she said. “It’s great to see the base that they have and to be able to watch it grow. There’s a whole team that comes together and we couldn’t do it without them. This is Nutcracker time of year for us – it’s what we do. It gets us in the Christmas spirit.”
There’s still a lot of work left for Bryant and the other dance moms to accomplish before “The Nutcracker” goes on the stage at the James W. Warren Citizen’s Center.
“My goal is to make them feel amazing on stage,” she said. “If you feel amazing, you take that further step above. It’s exciting for me and it’s exciting for them.”
Tickets for the 12th annual “Nutcracker” are available now. Performances are Friday, Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the James W. Warren Citizen's Center. All seats are $10. Tickets will be available at the Lincoln Cultural Center located at 403 East Main Street in Lincolnton.