“The Nutcracker” mixes change with C-U tradition


Photo Courtousy of the CU Ballet

A ballerina of the CU ballet rehearses for their annual production of The Nutcracker.

By Melissa Wagner, Staff writer

This year’s performance of “The Nutcracker” will feature a new Christmas tree, a new costume for the Rose Queen and even new choreography for the battle scene.

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts welcomes CU Ballet to dance “The Nutcracker” for their 19th year from Thursday to Sunday. Tickets are available for $45 general admission, $30 for students and $21 for kids ages 12 and under. This will be the third year that the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra will provide live music to accompany the performance.

Kay Greene, executive director of CU Ballet, said this year’s performance feels different, but it isn’t because of the additions or changes. Instead, it’s because the Midwest has experienced unseasonably warm temperatures for the month of November, making it difficult to get into the holiday spirit.

“It felt like we had all this time because the weather has been so warm; it fooled us,” Greene said. “In fact, it’s just seven days away from tech week.”

Erin King, freshman in Business, is also facing some changes this year. After 14 years of dancing ballet and over 12 with CU Ballet, King is taking on the acting role of the Rat Queen.

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“You’re wearing a mask so you have to use the rest of your body to portray a really important character,” King said. “This year it’s much more acting, so I’m gonna have to really rethink what I’m doing.”

Greene said it is a big transitional year for King, going from a dancer to a character artist. While both are performance arts, acting doesn’t necessarily come naturally for dancers.

“I’m not really more concerned about my ballet technique as I am how I’m doing and how it comes across visually to other people because that’s what acting is, but I think a lot more of that will come once we get to the theater and I have to get in costume and portray it to the entire audience,” King said.

Nick Hittle, freshman in LAS, is dancing the lead role of the Cavalier in one cast. Surprisingly enough, it isn’t the role he is most excited for.

“I am most excited to be the Arabian prince because it is a role that I haven’t done yet,” Hittle said.

Hittle has danced with CU Ballet for six years, so being assigned a different role in a show that’s performed annually presents him with a new challenge.

Luke Worland, junior in FAA, is dancing the titular lead role of the Nutcracker. He said they spend on average over 20 hours each week rehearsing.

The dancers agreed that ballet is a year-round activity. Many spend summers doing intensives, which are programs hosted  by companies around the nation to hone dancers’ skills that last one to two months.

“It can be a little stressful at times but I think it’s worth it,” said Lauren Frost, a junior at Unity High School. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s very energetic.”

Frost is dancing the roles of the Ice Fairy and the Rose Queen.While many dancers at CU Ballet spend summers apart, they still seek support from their local peers.

“We tend to find a lot of support within the company, so with other dancers who maybe you know are older than us, who have been here a year longer, know how to handle school or know how to handle whatever we may be going through dancing and how to take care of all the things that need to get done,” King said.

The balancing act between school and ballet may be difficult, but it didn’t scare away Hittle or King. They decided to attend the University and planned to remain members of CU Ballet even after graduating high school.

Greene said “The Nutcracker” is one of CU Ballet’s most popular shows. The dancers agreed that it serves as a holiday tradition for many families in the area, as well as those who live hours away.

“It’s such a family holiday tradition,” Greene said. “They look forward to coming every year, bringing their family after the Thanksgiving holiday. We look forward to having them as well, so it’s a great partnership.”

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