This year marks the 25th anniversary of the show for the Dance Academy. Preparations for the performance begin early each year for director Justine Pojanowski as she coordinates every detail. The first involvement for the dancers, however, is not until auditions. Early in Sept., Justine Pojanowski and her assistant choreographers Beth Bennett and Thereza Bryce-Cotes collaborate by narrowing down over 140 people to around 100 cast members.
The promise of the holiday season that “The Nutcracker” tradition brings, fuels Christmas spirit and spreads like wildfire throughout the community. This year’s performance is filled with multiple changes that will enhance the overall feel of the production.
“One thing that makes ‘The Nutcracker’ so amazing (is) that it has the same structure every year … we are always improving and adding details to make the show … more dynamic,” TJCDA student and “Nutcracker” soloist Catherine MacPherson said. “We are always coming up with new ideas to make the production better than … the year before.”
The story of “The Nutcracker” is about a young girl named Clara who gets a beautiful Nutcracker from her Uncle for Christmas. Clara loves her Nutcracker and falls asleep with him cradled in her arms. When she wakes up she discovers that her Nutcracker is not just a doll anymore but a full size person, just like her. The Nutcracker prince takes her on a journey to his land of sweets where all of his subjects bring gifts and dance and entertain the young pair.
After an enchanting evening with candy canes and sugar plums, Clara finds herself back in her home by her Christmas tree where she had been asleep the whole time; the land of sweets and her Nutcracker prince were only a dream.
Typically, Clara and the prince are played by older dancers in the 16-18 age range. This year, however, TJCDA is doing something different. Michelle Azzi playing Clara and Augustine (Augie) D’Eramo playing the Nutcracker Prince are both only 12 years old.
“When you’ve got Clara and the prince as your older dancers, you’ve got the entire second act where they’re just sitting on the throne doing nothing … I wanted to get my advanced dancers doing more things… It just seemed much more appropriate to have more of the 12-year-old age group doing that (playing Clara and the prince) and sweeter and more what the story was about,” Pojanowski said.
“I’m happy that they’re little kids this year… When it’s an older Clara, it loses innocence and kinda goes against the point,” said Anthony D’Eramo, TJC student and “Nutcracker” soloist.
Not only is casting taking a turn this year, but costumes are getting a makeover as well. Besides all the alterations that were needed on existing costumes, 17 new ones had to be created this year. Starting in Sept. the costume mistresses, Peggy MacPherson and Karen Johnson, have been putting in 20-30 hour workweeks sewing, trimming and fitting costumes.
“These ladies work really hard. They custom fit it (costumes) to each girl’s body… I just think it’s amazing for a city as small as Tyler, that every detail is so important,” Lori Barns, mother of one of the dancers, said.
“It adds a whole other layer beyond what [we’re] doing artistically,” Pojanowski said.
In addition to the venue and live music changes, TJCDA cast two of the best New York City Ballet Company principal dancers – the highest rank of a professional dance company – to perform the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier.
The Dance Academy hopes to “enhance and educate” the community by presenting the show to East Texas residents who may never attend an actual NYC ballet.
“There’s definitely a level in professionalism that we like to promote from the cast and from the audience expectations,” Bennett said. “I want [the audience] to appreciate the effort we all put into the production … and a good impression of TJC dance department.”
TJC Dance Academy has continuously preserved the magic and beauty that performing arts offer to the community.
“You really have to protect them (the classical arts) because people don’t always – especially very young people – don’t always give them the chance. So, I’m hoping that this performance will instill an interest in the symphony and ballet beyond “The Nutcracker…” I hope that it will breathe some life into Tyler performing arts audiences,” said Pojanowski.
“The Nutcracker” will show at 2 P.M. and 7:30 P.M. on Saturday Dec. 7 at the Cowan Center on UT Tyler campus. There will be two additional school shows for surrounding schools to attend and soak up the power of music and dance. For more information about tickets and performances, visit www.tjc.edu/events.