It’s that time of year again, when visions of sugar plums escape our dreams and leap onto the stage at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
The Champaign Urbana Ballet will open Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on Thursday night, accompanied by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. It is the magical story of Clara and her Prince, who are led through an enchanted dream by Clara’s mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer. This charming two-act ballet is a combination of mischief and magic that will entertain children and adults alike.
Ballet mistress Tobey Martinez, whose daughter Ginny will be dancing one of the roles of Clara, says that audience members can look forward to a night filled with spectacular dancing — and costumes. “The party scene will feature stunning new dresses for the Party Moms,” says Martinez, “and the Russian dance will have extra shimmer as dancers spin in beautiful full circle skirts.”
Many familiar faces are returning to the stage, Martinez says, but in different roles. This year’s production includes a cast of 117 people, ranging from five to 55 years old. Champaign Urbana Ballet was founded in 1998. It has annually staged The Nutcracker at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts since 2003.
Hundreds of parents and volunteers are involved in making the performances a possibility. In fact, many continue to help long after their children stop participating in The Nutcracker. Connie Hosier, for example, is acting in the role of Mother Ginger during Act II. Her daughter Kate, a member of The National Ballet of Canada, is a former CU Ballet dancer who has previously performed as both Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“It is so rewarding to watch all this kids grow and mature from age four or five as Polichinelles and then go onto corps and solo roles,” says Hosier.
Dee Chapman, another CU Ballet parent, first took her daughter to see the show at The Virginia Theatre in 1999. Of the experience, she says, “We were both dazzled, and she auditioned for the show the very next year. Being a part of CU Ballet’s Nutcracker has definitely been a memory maker in our home!” Since then, her five other children have also participated in Champaign Urbana Ballet productions. “I love that the dancers perform a full-length production in gorgeous costumes, at a beautiful venue, with a live orchestra.”
The company is committed to making ballet accessible to everyone. Over 250 children attend a CU Ballet production for free each year, thanks to contributions from the Tickets for Kids (TFK) program. These preschool and elementary students are identified by their schools as “at risk” due to financial difficulties or hearing, speech or physical disabilities. Several children introduced to ballet by TFK have gone on to perform in The Nutcracker with CU Ballet.
Company manager Kay Greene notes that what happens behind the scenes can be as beautiful as the performance itself: “One of the highlights for me is the story behind one of our Claras — Ginny Martinez. The story is that Ginny’s mom grew up as a dancer, and one of her dreams was to dance the role of Clara. It never happened for her, but mom’s dream will come to life this year as her daughter dances. That’s the thing about The Nutcracker — it’s magical in so many different ways.”
Champaign Urbana Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker will be peformed Thursday, December 4th, through Sunday, December 7th. Showtimes are: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday; and 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday.
Photos courtesy of Champaign Urbana Ballet.