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The hustle bustle of the season is in full swing. Swarthmore’s tree-lined streets are clogged with shoppers. Station wagons covet the parking spots near the fire department’s tree sale. And a thousand foil-wrapped chocolate coins compete with the poinsettias for aisle space at the Co-op. The air is charged with anticipation and a hint of anxiety!
But in one place last weekend, I found the peace and wonder so often lost in the turmoil of the holidays.
Tucked between downtown and the library, the beautiful Arts and Crafts bungalow with the golden dancer on the sign welcomed a small audience to a production of The Nutcracker.
At 7:30pm the lights went down at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre, and Mrs. Ardis came out to tell us all the story of the ballet so that each member of the audience, large and small, would know what was coming next. Then the music began and collectively we held our breath in delight.
The party scene was lovely and quite funny. The maids and family were a joy to watch. Caroline Grogan as Clara’s sister (a good twist on the usual Fritz) was full of pixie-ish energy and Sue Dowling was hysterical as the Admiral’s wife.
Anna Morreale danced Clara with a timeless innocence. Her reaction in the moment when William Hodges’s dapper Drosselmeyer revealed the nutcracker to her was especially sweet.
Eleanor Runiewicz was fantastic as the Heart Doll – it was magical to see her come to life and we rued the moment she turned into a doll once more.
When the party guests were gone the story seemed to fly, with soldiers, rats and plenty of action. In particular Olivia Labows danced the Royal Rat with a fascinating sinuous quality.
Mrs. Ardis and Amber Flynn, who choreographed the ballet together, have a wonderful knack for casting dancers who partner well together, and for playing up the humor and drama in each scene. The pacing of the production made the evening feel short in spite of our being treated to every note of the Tchaikovsky score.
This was my third visit to a production of the Lori Ardis Ballet Company, and my second Nutcracker. The more often I visit, the more I am delighted and astonished at the way the company works together. A dancer may be a lead in one production and a member of the corps in another. The only thing to tie the performances together is the utter commitment with which each dancer on the stage delivers his or her part no matter how large or small.
A new face in the ballet was William McCullough as the Nutcracker prince. I first saw McCollough perform at an SRA production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” a few years ago. He had a relaxed and likable presence as Quince and he was just as charismatic and at home on the stage of SBT in spite of a very demanding role with complicated partnering and multiple lifts. I hope to see more of this young man’s work at SBT.
The second act had so many standout moments. Among them was Rebekah Kuzmick dancing the Arabian with a shy intensity, and accompanied by Ava Dijistelbloem, Noa Dijistelbloem and Michaela Venuto. The Sheperd and Shepherdess dance (complete with sheep and Tony Venuto’s leaping, gamboling Wolf), and Mother Ginger with her winsome children were also wonderfully fun to watch.
Anna Si showed her range once again, dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy with a seemingly effortless elegance, partnered by Donn Guthrie.
Though the performance space is small, there is still a place on the floor near the stage where children are invited to sit for an unobstructed view. My little helpers and I took advantage of that opportunity. Watching this group of incredibly talented dancers bring the timeless story of childhood wonder to life, in an intimate theatre with my children literally in my arms was a sweet privilege for which I will be grateful long after the decorations are put away and we’re back to business as usual.
Did seeing the production make you want to dance too? Swarthmore Ballet Theatre offers professional training to children and adults. Tuition is inexpensive and attendance is practically a rite of passage for the lucky children of our community. Please visit http://swarthmoreballettheatre.com to learn more!