CU Ballet presents magical production of The Nutcracker


Rehearsal of CU Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” at Krannert Center on Nov. 29, 2017. Performers often play multiple parts within the show, from scene to scene and year to year.

By Sam Schrage, Staff Writer

From Clara to Sugar Plum Fairy, Lauren Frost has portrayed some of “The Nutcracker’s” most magical characters throughout her eight years with the Champaign Urbana Ballet.

Now in her sixth year as a company member, Frost continues to bring her talent and passion to the stage in more ways than one.

This year, Frost will play the roles of Mrs. Stahlbaum, a party member, an ice fairy, a lemonade sprite, the Sugar Plum Fairy, a ribbon candy and Rose Queen in the Flower Pas de Deux throughout the show’s two-weekend run. This year, Frost also had the opportunity to work as a rehearsal assistant on the show, where she saw all the work that goes into the show from a different perspective.

“I think the ability to portray a bunch of different roles in one show really makes it unique and the fact that you have such a supportive audience makes it so worthwhile,” Frost said.

“The Nutcracker” will run both this weekend and next in the Tryon Festival Theatre at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $45 for adults, $30 for students, $21 for youth and can be purchased through the Krannert Center website. This year’s “The Nutcracker” is especially significant because the cast gets to perform the show two weekends in a row, instead of the traditional one.

This year’s production includes a total of 132 cast members and more than 100 volunteers who put in over 2,000 hours of work. The cast practiced for a total of 10 weeks before opening night.

“The Nutcracker” tells the story of a young girl, Clara, her mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, and her magical dream that takes her on adventures with a Nutcracker. As Clara and the Nutcracker journey to his homeland, they encounter a battle with the Rat Queen, dancing candies in the Land of the Sweets and the angelic beings of the Land of the Snow.

This year’s “The Nutcracker” will be the 21st show the Champaign Urbana Ballet has put on since its founding in 1998. However, this year’s production includes a special dutch dairy scene by Artistic Director Deanna Doty. The scene was inspired by a visit to a dairy farm. The company also puts on several additional shows throughout its seasons, including “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella.”

Isaac Lee, a three-year company member, also portrays multiple roles within the show as footman, a rat, Rose King in the Flower Pas de Deux, and the Nutcracker this year. Isaac said having a wide range of parts allows him to grow as both a dancer and a performer.

“I feel like I’ve grown as a dancer, but the parts also grew with me,” Lee said. “They are always engaging and fun no matter how challenging or technical the part is.”

Aside from company members, the CU Ballet also brings in soloist dancers that feature in the shows.

This year, the company brought in Kevin Burnside as a soloist to portray Mr. Stahlbaum, Rat Queen, cavalier and Rose King in the Flower Pas de Deux.

However, Burnside has portrayed a multitude of roles within “The Nutcracker” throughout his seven seasons with the CU Ballet which has allowed his career with the company to come full circle.

“The idea of working hard at something and accomplishing it makes me want to come back and dance with the company year after year. The fact that I can dedicate my time and get a reward at the end of it is really cool,” Burnside said.

Burnside’s experiences as a dance major at the University has prepared him to take on these roles after college. He has had the opportunity to be a mentor to the younger dancers in recent years.

One of Burnside’s favorite scenes within “The Nutcracker” is “The Land of the Snow” in Act I featuring snowfall, icy trees, ice fairies, snowflakes and more. He said part of what makes this scene one of his favorites is the impeccable set design, music and costume design which add another layer of performance to the show.

“The Nutcracker” features live music by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, which allows the dancing to be completely unique to the scene. The sets and props are also an extensive part of the overall vision of the show.

Costume design is a breathtaking part of the show that brings the characters to life.

Masumi Iriye, costume mistress of the show, is in charge of organizing volunteers to work on the costumes as well as overseeing the costume creation. She also works closely with artistic director Deanna Doty to carry out her vision of the show.

From the time the show is cast to the production. Iriye has 12 weekends to measure, alter and hand-make any new costume for the show. This year, Iriye took on the role of creating a new maid and Rat Queen costume.

Although she first got involved with the CU Ballet because her children wanted to perform in the shows, the dance community is what makes her want to keep coming back to assume her role as costume mistress.

“You meet people and you realize this is a great community organization and volunteer network, but it’s also an incredibly professionally produced production,” Iriye said. “The friendships you form doing this together carries you through to the next year.”

“The Nutcracker” could not be done without the collaboration of the entire community from the dancers, to the crew, to the volunteers. The experiences the dancers get and the experiences the audience will take away is unique to each person.

“We are so blessed to have a production of this magnitude in our community,” said Kay Greene, executive director of the CU Ballet. “They can come right here and see this beautiful, spectacular, professional production and walk away with a memory they won’t forget.”

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