Teresa Emmons, artistic director of Ballet Theatre of Dover, and Daniel Kaiser, artistic director of Delaware Ballet, offer the holiday favorite as a gift to dancers and the community.
Local ballet gurus Daniel Kaiser, artistic director of Delaware Ballet, and Teresa Emmons, director of Ballet Theatre of Dover, aren’t necessarily as enthusiastic about another year of “The Nutcracker” as their fresh-faced dancers.
Kaiser had barely recovered from the long, hot summer and was in the studio, listening to the music he used to perform to for 42 shows per month.
“In September, it’s 85 degrees and we’re listening to ‘The Nutcracker,’” he said.
As for Emmons, she’d rather consider the Duke Ellington “Nutcracker” and make it all chrome and modern, or maybe do “Babes in Toyland.”
See either director in their natural habitat – guiding young dancers – and it’s obvious that although they might like a break from snow queens and wooden dolls, neither of them would let their dancers and the community down by skipping the Christmas classic.
“Every year after ‘Nutcracker’ there’s one 5 year old who comes to me and says ‘When I get to that level I want to be so and so.’ How can you tell them you’re not doing that? You don’t want to be the Grinch that stole ‘Nutcracker,’” Emmons said.
So they’ve been in their studios at the Tudor Industrial Park and Enterprise Business Park at all hours to get the budding ballerinas ready for their respective productions.
On a Sunday afternoon just two weeks before showtime, the elder members of Delaware Ballet’s “Nutcracker” are stretching and gossiping in the hallway while their young cast mates wind down their rehearsals.
Parents chat, talking about busy schedules and rehearsals, and cordoned off in another rehearsal room is Kaiser, talking intently to this year’s Sugarplum Fairy Taylor Paskey, and his guest artist Yosbel Delgado.
This is Kaiser’s 19th year behind the scenes of Delaware Ballet’s production, although he still knows the steps from his time with the Pennsylvania Ballet.
“I don’t have to do the steps myself, it’s there,” he said, tapping his head.
The ballet gets a tune up each year to challenge longtime dancers, although some things never change. Brittany Kaiser, Daniel’s daughter, serves as one of his two ballet mistresses; former student Kimberly Diaz is the other. The two mistresses have performed “The Nutcracker” with other companies, yet the Delaware Ballet is hardwired into their minds, they said.
At 17, Ransom Crowder has spent most of her life as a student of Kaiser’s. Her first role in “Nutcracker” was in fourth grade as an angel, and she’s now graduated to lead Marzipan, Marzipan corps, and snow corps.
Although the Caesar Rodney High School senior isn’t pursuing dance in college, she said she’ll take her years of experience with her in the form of self-confidence and friendships.
Natalie Mayan, 17, will portray Dew Drop in this year’s production. She said she was late to the “Nutcracker” game; she started in sixth grade as a soldier and member of the party scene. Mayan isn’t planning on dancing in college, either, but said the experience has helped with her drama and singing, which she might continue with. She said it’s the friends that keep her at the studio.
Sometimes it feels like they live there — Crowder is there four nights per week, three hours per night, and on weekends. She’s also a gymnast, so the schedule is tight.
“Sometimes it feels like too much,” Mayan said. “Then you get to ‘Nutcracker’ week and it’s all worth it.”
Mayan and Crowder agreed that Kaiser can be a taskmaster. “If you’re goofing off, it’s not good,” Mayan said emphatically.
Before the shows, however, Kaiser gives the cast a pep talk, often getting emotional.
“He cares about us more than a lot of teachers at school,” Mayan said.
Kaiser is passionate about dance, but also about exposing the community to the arts in general.
“This is our major goal, trying to get the community more in tune with the arts,” he said. “Every community needs the arts. If it’s not there, it’s just a dead place.”
The production itself is a community effort, drawing parents and friends as volunteers, and even cast members. The group also goes into schools to perform “Nutcracker” selections for approximately 1,500 students.
BALLET THEATRE OF DOVER
Across town at the Tudor Industrial Park, Allycia Powell, 17, is flexing her legs and feet by bouncing foot-toe, foot-toe in her pointe shoes, readying herself for a daunting rehearsal. The Lake Forest High School senior is dancing both Snow Queen and Dew Drop. Until a few weeks ago, however, Powell wasn’t sure what role she’d have. It’s part of Emmons’ training process to have the dancers work multiple roles so she can examine them at length before officially naming them to a part.
“It makes us stronger, but it’s ‘Oh my gosh, who’s going to get what,’” Powell said.
Emmons explained that it keeps dancers from getting complacent after earning a part. It also gives them something to work toward if they are an understudy, which means if they do well, that role might be theirs in a workshop later on, Emmons said.
One of Powell’s competitors in this year’s production is Laura Ward, 17, a Dover High School senior taking on the dual role of Clara and the Sugarplum Fairy for the first time.
“When ‘Nutcracker’ ends the year before, we start thinking about who’s going to dance what next year,” Ward said.
The two dancers have been with the Dance Conservatory, the official school of the Ballet Theatre of Dover, since they were in elementary school. Powell debuted in “The Nutcracker” as a party girl and angelstar, and Ward was a gumdrop and soldier.
“We live here,” Powell said, stretching after an athletic rehearsal.
The two acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses with frankness, giving each other credit. They agreed that Emmons and her team are tough because they care about preparing them for a future that includes dance.
Staff members know when the dancers are doing their best because they’re with them so often, Ward said. When the dancers are slacking, they hear about it.
“They critique us a lot,” Powell said. “They care about us a lot, you can tell.”
Every toe has to be pointed, Emmons reminded dancers at Nov. 22 rehearsals.
“The camera doesn’t lie,” she said.
Emmons tweaks the production annually but continuously favors the lesser-performed original version in which Clara becomes the Sugarplum Fairy. It allows her to extend the drama into Act II when Clara dances with the doll she fell in love with.
Phil Chan, a guest dancer, will play the prince, and dancers have been to New York to work with him. Emmons encourages her dancers to visit large cities to get a feel for what the competition is like.
“It’s good for them to get out and find out that there is a standing standard for dance. Good old little Delaware has to gauge themselves by that, not by the standards that they set for themselves here in Dover,” she said.
As far as this year’s “Nutcracker” is concerned, one of Emmons’ highlights is the fact that she has boys participating. She encourages boys to dance because it helps the girls, and also because there’s also money out there. If they can turn, jump and partner they’ll get a job, and maybe a scholarship, she said.
Powell said the dancers are there late into the night and on weekends preparing for “Nutcracker,” but it’ll be worth it.
“We do give a lot up, but this is going to benefit us in the future,” she said.
Even volunteer and parent Liz Brooks, costume mistress, said the work is worth it.
“The beginning is always exciting, then you have a long stretch of hard work, then you get to the week and it’s so exciting.”