‘The Nutcracker’ celebrates 25 years in C-U


Photo courtesy of Claire Daly Photography

The cast of ‘The Nutcracker’ rehearse at the Krannert Center in 2019. The production will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

By Kylie Corral, buzz Editor

The holiday season has officially begun with celebrations gearing up to take off during the first week of December. “The Nutcracker,” a ballet production performed and coordinated by dancers, directors and staff at Champaign Urbana Ballet, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Kay Greene, executive director of CU Ballet, said she has been working at the dance studio for 10 years now. She added that after visiting the company, she fell in love and “has been there ever since.”

This year, CU Ballet is changing again, welcoming alumni ballerinas from who will return to the stage for the special occasion. Greene said there will be many people returning to perform on the stage and backstage as well.

“I think that the biggest reward for us is now you have adults, all grown up. Some are moms with three children and (are) coming back to do what they love to do. It just leaves one’s heart feeling very warm,” Greene said.

Greene also explained how much “The Nutcracker” production means to people in Champaign-Urbana, becoming a holiday tradition for locals, but for others as well. She added that people come as far as Kankakee and Effingham, Ill., just to see the show at Krannert.

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“I guess I didn’t realize what a tradition this was for our community. But it became very evident when we couldn’t take “The Nutcracker” to the stage because everything was closed,” Greene said. “My email was very busy. My phone was very busy, with people calling and inquiring (about the show).”

Greene also added that she is very excited to be part of the on stage performance as the dairy queen this year. She also added that she is excited at the possibilities for CU Ballet’s future and what they will bring to the stage next.

“I think it’s a goal that we all have. We share that (goal) to keep things fresh and alive and new and being a part of a community that you know, gives back to us in so many ways. And so for us to be able to give this to them, this gift of arts, and bring smiles and laughter, I mean, gosh, that’s such a blessing,” Greene said.

Some of the alumni returning to the stage this year include Michelle Allen, a physical therapist and mother of three, Gina Modica, who works at the University of Illinois System’s office and Alexandra Warwick, a drama teacher at Campus Middle School for Girls.

All three dancers said they started dancing when they were around five or six years old, eventually leading them to perform in “The Nutcracker” for CU Ballet.

“So then, I started dancing there and then I was in the inaugural group of dancers with the CU Ballet the year it was founded in 1998. And then I danced from ’98 to 2002 with them and went to (the University) for college. So (I) started college, took a little time off, but then really missed it,” Allen said.

Modica agreed, adding that although it had been a while since she danced for any productions, she had been assistant backstage for the past few years. She said that it was this year when CU Ballet reached out to her about returning to the stage.

“I actually did also start out taking an adult ballet class that I’m really enjoying. So it’s really brought me back to dance. Probably won’t stick with being on stage, but I really have enjoyed being back in the studio,” Modica added.

Warwick said that being back with CU Ballet has been exciting in preparation for the show, as well as in seeing all the progress the three of them and the rest of the dancers have made in rehearsal.

“But now, coming in once a week or twice a week, I really see the leaps that the dancers are making from one week to the next which is really fun,” Warwick said. “All those things that somehow were in my world before that I took for granted just knowing what to do, now I’m having to revisit them after several years away. So it’s exciting but nerve wracking at the same time.”

Warwick added that the ordeal has been “a trip down memory lane” for all of them.

“I can see the dancers doing the steps, and I’m doing them in my mind as well. But at the same time, there’s a lot of new things as well that have changed and it keeps it fresh. So it’s always fun,” Warwick explained.

Modica said that her favorite memories are from her dance friends that she has met and now reunited with. She added that she also loves the environment that “The Nutcracker” creates for those who come for the show.

“All the little kids that get dressed up and skip around the lobby and go get their cupcakes (and things) like that always just makes me feel really good. I just like seeing that people enjoy coming to see it and have a really good time,” Modica said.

Allen said that the advice she would give dancers everywhere is to enjoy themselves and where they are.

“Don’t be afraid to let go and have fun,” Allen said. “Because years from now you’ll be grown up like us, and it’ll be a lot harder. But you’ll still be able to come in and enjoy the music and the artistry and that sort of feeling of coming together for a show.”


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