Becoming Clara of “The Nutcracker”

By Shalayne Pulia

Ginny Martinez’s hand shot up before she knew what she was doing. The slender dancer, perpetually composed, had volunteered to dance for the last audition spot for Clara in the annual Champaign-Urbana Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

Mature beyond her 15 years, Martinez said it was a dream role, an opportunity she couldn’t let go. So she gave it all she had and earned her first major part as the lead role.

“I just knew I had to go for it,” Martinez said with a smile widening across her face. “Oh, gosh I’m so excited!”

Tobey Martinez, Ginny’s ballet instructor, shared in Ginny’s excitement.

“That was a very wonderful thing that happened to Ginny,” Tobey said. “They all have things that they would like to be; they have goals. But the overall goal is … just to make yourself better as a dancer.”

“The Nutcracker” will be performed at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts from Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are on sale for $42 each, $28 for students and $20 for children, ages 12 and under. For the first time, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra will provide the enchanting music for this year’s ballet.

Ginny has grown up on stage, working to better her dancing for almost 12 years; every other activity she tried could not stand up against her love for ballet.

“When I was a girl, I was very involved in Girl Scouts and ice skating and gymnastics, all types of activities,” Ginny said. “No matter really what came up, what activity that I had to choose between, it was always ballet that I wanted to do.”

After a full day of sophomore classes at Centennial High School, she returns to the Champaign-Urbana Ballet Academy studio for practice. Her class runs from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. during the week, and she also has rehearsals on Saturdays with the rest of the cast.

“Every day I come straight from school, and I do homework here. I eat here. Then I do my ballet and rehearse,” Ginny said.

She returns home around 9 p.m. to finish up homework and heads to bed to get enough rest for the next day’s full schedule. But Martinez does not mind.

“It’s what I love to do, so I wouldn’t really want it any other way,” she said.

She is a perfectionist. Not a hair fell out of place from her tight bun, and her makeup was painted on with precision. Glittering earrings highlighted a wide smile that peaked each time she spoke about performing.

Dancing as Clara is her moment. She has wanted to shine on stage, finally dancing a role that holds a special place in her memory.

During Martinez’s first year as a company dancer in 2011, she recalls watching the Sugarplum Fairy place a sparkling crown on Clara’s head.

“It just gave me chills, automatically my favorite part of the ballet,” she said.

She raised her hands above her head where the crown would be placed. Her wide, brown eyes lit up as she lifted her chin with pride.

“Now, I get to do it.”

The crown will complete one of two costumes for her role as Clara. One outfit features cap sleeves and a bow while the other is a traditional nightgown.

“This is a tradition for a lot of families in the Champaign county area and even outside of our county area, because we’ve got audience members that come from Effingham, Bloomington and Chicago,” said Kay Greene, company manager for the Academy. “And we’re very honored to be part of that.”

Greene’s position focuses on the administrative side of the company encompassing everything from insurance to T-shirts for the dancers. She is not a dancer, but she still enjoys furthering “The Nutcracker” tradition.

While classic performances make an appearance each year, the company also tries to vary the dances to intrigue a returning audience. Some of the costumes are also revamped for the new performances as well.

“This year’s very exciting because we have new Party Mom dresses, which are just gorgeous,” Tobey said.

The dresses will feature a traditional silhouette adorned with intricate flower patterns. Deanna Doty, artistic director, has heavily influence on the redesign.

Each costume is handmade by volunteers, usually parents of current or alumni dancers. Masumai O’Brien, volunteer costume mistress, oversees them.

Taylor Feddersen will sport her same costume from last year as she returns to her role as the Sugarplum Fairy, while Valerie Linsner will share the Sugarplum Fairy part this year as well.

The rest of the lead roles include: Nick Hittle as the Sugarplum Fairy’s Cavalier, Michelle Lu and Erisa Nakamura as the Rose Queen, and Kevin Burnside and Kajetan Haas as the Nutcracker. Bella Chapman will share the role of Clara with Ginny Martinez.

Along with their lead roles, many of these dancers will fill alternate rolls in the 117-member Nutcracker production. It is not uncommon for company dancers to perform multiple parts, balancing their roles with rehearsals, regular dance classes and schoolwork for most who are typically high school aged. It is a balancing act that they handle with the same grace and poise they present on stage, according to Greene.

“And what I know of these dancers … they’re very supportive of the fact that their good friend, who worked very hard, got their part and they’re very happy for them,” Greene said.

The Champaign-Urbana Ballet Academy’s next performance will be “Swan Lake” in the spring at the Virginia Theatre. Preparations are already underway, according to Ginny. Ginny has been practicing her swan arms with the group after class; preparing for multiple roles is part of life as one of these dancers.

“We often have to go from being delicate swans to Sugarplum fairies and Clara-type characters,” Ginny said.

Their hard work pays off each time they hit the stage to perform a new role, Ginny said, or perhaps even a dream role.

Ginny’s chin turned up once again. Her eyes looked off into the distance. She smiled.

“It’s magical.”

Shalayne can be reached at [email protected]