A Fun and Festive Nutcracker

Swarthmore Ballet Theatre - Rose and Theo

Clara (Rose Hodges) & her Nutcracker Prince (Theo Runiewicz)

The streets of Swarthmore are swathed in garlands and decked in holiday banners once again. As the Home for the Holidays horse drawn carriage carries dozens of happy townsfolk past the village shops and Swarthmore Fire Company tree sale, a very lucky audience arrives at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre’s intimate space, clutching our coveted tickets to see this year’s production of The Nutcracker ballet.

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Each year the mother-daughter choreography team of Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn creates a whole new ballet on the dancers. This year’s production draws on the gifts of an enthusiastic and fearless ensemble of experienced dancers, and further develops a wave of emerging new talent.

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In SBT tradition, Mrs. Ardis herself steps onto the stage to share the story of the Nutcracker in a way that helps even the smallest members of the audience understand what they are about to see. Then the lights go down and we are immersed in the age-old story of holiday wonder.

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The family tableaux is especially sweet this year. Clara (Rose Hodges) has a storybook innocence and interacts genuinely with her mother (Denise Disney), father (Bill Foster) and droll little brother (Nathaniel Mitchell). The party scene fills the small stage with an almost improbable number of delighted children and their bemused parents (all gorgeously costumed by Lori Ardis and Bonnie Weaver). Each member of the company is utterly devoted to telling the classic tale, no matter how large or small their role.

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Drosselmeyer (William Hodges) presents Clara with two heart dolls, danced by Nathaniel Hodges and Audrey Foster. The two are clockwork perfect in their pas de deux, and when Drosselmeyer magically turns them human for a moment, Nathaniel’s warm smile for his partner is absolutely melting.

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Of course, we all know what happens next. Reprising last year’s role as the Nutcracker prince, Theo Runiewicz partners Clara beautifully. His confidence and impressive height are the perfect complement to Hodges’s light-as-air quality of movement, and her gentle Clara.

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Elizabeth Si’s Royal Rat majestically directs a hoard of mice to battle an army of the Nutcracker’s soldiers. When it’s all over, the elegant Ellen McCullough appears as the Snow Queen, with her bevy of snowflakes, to guide Clara and her prince to the Land of Enchantment.

Elizabeth mouse costume

Elizabeth Si dances the role of the Royal Rat

The second act treats the audience to a host of joyful new dances. The Spanish and Chinese are high energy pieces featuring some of SBT’s rising talent. The shepherdesses are lovely in their Alpine-themed costumes in a hilarious interlude that includes a battle with a rogue wolf. Other standouts are the elegant Tarantella, the lovely Russian solo, the lively Quintet, and of course Mother Ginger and her adorable children. Geraldine Leach dances her heart out as the Dew Drop Fairy, surrounded by a host of sumptuously costumed Flowers.

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Ardis and Flynn have been refining and adapting a heart-stopping Arabian pas de deux since 2016 when it was first choreographed on Donn Guthrie and Anna Si. Since then, this devastating showstopper has been a proving ground for many of SBT’s most accomplished dancers. Guthrie reprises his role with Eleanor Runiewicz as his partner. Both dancers rise to the challenge, exhibiting trust, strength and unbelievable control as Runiewicz stretches, swanlike, and almost seems to float to the ceiling in just one of Guthrie’s capable hands.

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The Sugar Plum fairy is an iconic role, perfect for an SBT veteran, like Mia Davis. Davis’s exquisite Sugar Plum is absolutely fairylike, fluttering her pointes in petite battlements and tapays and hanging in the air for an extra moment with every leap. Her pas de deux with her Cavalier (Donn Guthrie) appears to be effortless for the pair.

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The tale comes to an end with Clara twirling in a soft spotlight, cradling her beloved nutcracker doll in her arms. SBT’s heartfelt production leaves the whole audience feeling just like the nutcracker, enchanted and embraced – and wishing the lights would never come up.

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All tickets to this year’s Nutcracker are sold out. The best way to remember your tickets for next year is to sign your children or yourself up for classes next year! Professional level ballet classes are available for the whole family right here in Swarthmore. Read more about taking classes at SBT here.

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More than 100 volunteers assist in the production of the ballet. The Lori Ardis Ballet Company is a non-profit and can accept donations (recent fundraisers have outfitted the theater with beautiful eco-friendly lighting). Reach out to SBT to learn how to be part of the magic by donating time or funds! 

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FUN FACTS:

  • It’s a family affair! Many families had more than one member in this year’s production, including: a mother-daughter duo, two father daughter duos, one family with six members all in the production, and three sets of twins!

  • Grab your tissues! In last year’s production, Clara’s Father was her father in real life. In this year’s production, Clara’s Mother is her mother in real life!

  • SBT dancers love to dance all year long! Spanish dancers Naomi Si and Alexander Voelker learned to play the castanets and work with a cape during the SBT Summer Intensive. Click here to learn more about the Summer Intensive!

  • What a debut! Bill Foster, who plays Clara’s Father has never performed onstage before. You would never guess it from his natural presence and debonair smile.

  • Did you know? If you’ve seen George Ballanchine’s Nutcracker ballet you may remember a main character called Marie going to the Land of Sweets. The Ardis and Flynn production has Clara and her prince visiting the Land of Enchantment where life-sized dolls from different countries dance! Click here to read an interview with Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn about their many productions of The Nutcracker!

  • Picture Perfect! All the photographs in this blog were taken by Kristen Herzel and provided courtesy of Swarthmore Ballet Theatre. Kristen’s son, Nathaniel Mitchell, played the mischievous Little Brother in this production!

Alex and Naomi

Spanish Dancers (Alexander Voelker & Naomi Si) learned cape work and castanets at the SBT Summer Intensive program. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Life in Swarthmore (& Wallingford, Life in Swarthmore (& Wallingford, Rose Valley, Rutledge & Media), Uncategorized

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