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BTCP to perform 'The Nutcracker'

by and on December 10, 2013 12:01 PM

The Sugar Plum Fairy dropped in for tea on Nov. 24 at the Toftrees Conference Center in the form of 15-year-old Ashley Helsel.

Helsel, a sophomore at Grace Prep, will dance that role in Ballet Theatre of Central Pa's (BTCP) production of The Nutcracker, set for Dec. 14 and 15 at Eisenhower Auditorium on the Penn State campus.

Joined by five companions from the production, Helsel introduced the story to over 100 guests. She read the story aloud, then she and her associates performed excerpts from the ballet. The event set a festive tone while raising the excitement and anticipation levels for the upcoming performance.

Rebecca Maciejczyk, BTCP's Artistic Director, directs this year's Nutcracker. And it looks like an impressive undertaking. The cast includes principal dancers with remarkable stage experience, technique and expression.

"It seems like the choreography is more familiar now," according to Maciejczyk, "so the dancers can explore the artistry a bit more."

For Helsel, a BTCP veteran, the role has a special enchantment. Fresh off two separate summer intensives with Suzanne Farrell and the Ballet Magnificat, Helsel has danced several roles in past Nutcracker performances. But Sugar Plum has a special place in every dancer's heart.

"It's a magic feeling with the tiara and the tutu," she says. "It's a reality I never thought would come true."

Audiences love the ballet's familiarity. Little Marie (played by 11-year-olds Fiona Mulley and Margo Novikov) receives a nutcracker/prince who comes to life (9-year-old Emiyare Ikwut-Ukwa), has a battle with some fiendish mice and their king (Ryan Gruhn), gets whisked off to an enchanted land inhabited by the Sugar Plum Fairy, her handsome cavalier (guest performer Bradley Rhoton), Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dancers, waltzing flowers and Mother Ginger (Roby Harris) and her polichinelles (small children who run out from under Mother Ginger's voluminous skirts).

Maciejczyk makes certain that these traditions remain intact, while integrating fresh elements. Gruhn makes his first appearance with BTCP as the Mouse King. As head instructor at Central Pa Mixed Martial Arts, he'll deliver some particularly athletic energy and movement to the role.

"It's a fun thing to explore," Maciejczyk says.

Reprising his role as the gender-neutral Mother Ginger, Harris brings his technical expertise to the production. The character needs the height and size to hide at least five children under her skirt. In addition to learning to walk on stilts, Harris, a structural engineer, designed the contraption that will move onto the stage and open up to release the little polichinelles. It will have the appearance of an oversized skirt.

While few community dance companies have the resources or the time to completely overhaul their production every year, BTCP always manages to find ways to keep a tradition exciting. And the constant strengthening of dancers' techniques forms the backbone of the company's history of quality performance.

Maciejczyk has managed to find and present the kind of enchantment that should always accompany Nutcracker. As she puts it: "I try to encourage the dancers to find magic."

And her young cast can't wait to share that magic with their audience.


What: "The Nutcracker"

When: Dec. 14 (7:30 p.m.) and 15 (3 p.m.)

Where: Eisenhower Auditorium

Tickets: $25

For more information or to buy tickets click HERE.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Ann is an Arts and Entertainment correspondent for the Gazette.
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