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'Nutcracker' dancers deliver artistry through growth



Nutcracker3

Cecilia Zanone, Reece Conrad and Jadyn Dahlberg dance as life-like dolls in "The Nutcracker." The ballet will run Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m., and Dec. 2 and 3 at 2 p.m. at the Musical Arts Center. Marlie Bruns Buy Photos

Junior Anna Grunewald said she could feel the energy of the Snowflakes in the wings of the Musical Arts Center as she floated onstage Thursday in her collegiate Snow Queen debut.

The lights were dim, and the blindingly bright spotlight trained on her throughout the snow scene made her feel like she and her partner were the only two in the room.

“Something about that is just so magical,” Grunewald said.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” performed by Jacobs School of Music students this weekend, captivated its audience with small moments of humor, such as the drawn-out death of the Mouse King. It also utilized the beauty of its dancing and sets, including the falling snowflakes in the last number of act one.

Grunewald, among other roles, danced as Snow Queen on Thursday and Sunday, and as a member of the snow corps Saturday and said the small flecks of white paper are slippery, adding both difficulty and authenticity to the scene.

“It just feels so real,” Grunewald said. “It doesn’t feel like you’re dancing on a stage or on a set. I think it’s something unlike any other ballet.”

She said she often finds the paper stuck to her body or randomly in her home after a night of dancing. Sometimes a ballerina’s head is placed just perfectly enough for a fluttering piece of snow to fall into her mouth during the scene. It tastes like salt.

It’s quiet as it drops to the floor, but when bobby pins fall out of the ballerina buns and get swept up by the tech crew, the dancers can hear tiny pings of metal hitting the stage the next night.  

Although she had to be careful of the snow, Grunewald said she was ultimately focused on her dancing while onstage. During the rehearsal process, she worked to grow from student to budding professional, thinking more about the artistry of the moves than the technicality of every step.

“I feel like I accomplished something,” she said.

For her, the new members of Jacobs’ ballet faculty were helpful in bringing new perspectives to her dancing. They offered suggestions for how she could move her head or feet that she or other professors have done differently or not thought about at all.

Senior Ryan McCreary, who danced as the Sugar Plum Fairy on Thursday and Sunday, agreed the new faculty has been enormously helpful in her growth.

Although instructors had many different opinions, McCreary was able to use the suggestions that worked best for her. Every minuscule decision helped her make the performance her own.

“Perfection can look different at different times,” McCreary said.

McCreary said the role of Sugar Plum Fairy was especially difficult because it played to many of her weaknesses, like remaining calm in her face and upper body while still keeping her legs strong.

After opening night, ballet Professor Carla Korbes noticed that McCreary looked intimidating, which is the opposite of what the Sugar Plum Fairy is supposed to be. 

The Sugar Plum Fairy serves as the queen of the Land of Sweets in the second act, and McCreary said Korbes suggested she perform as if she wanted to bring happiness to every one of her subjects.

“’I’m gonna color this if it’s black, I’m gonna color this if it’s gray,’” McCreary said Korbes told her. “’I’m gonna make it beautiful.’”

Hailey and Ashley Barnes, 10-year-old sisters from New Jersey, traveled with their father and stepmother to see their cousin, junior Anna Barnes, perform Arabian in Friday’s show.

Hailey is a dancer and Ashley is a singer and musician, so although neither of them has danced or played in a “Nutcracker” production, they can understand the show.

“We like the story and how it’s all about dance and there’s no words,” Ashley said.

Their parents said the girls have been going to different versions of “The Nutcracker” for five or six years, and have seen many different companies, including the Russian Ballet.

Their stepmother, Mareza Estevez, said she prefers watching university ballet because the audience can see how the young dancers develop and learn from their mistakes.

“It’s more intimate,” she said.

For Estevez, teaching Hailey and Ashley to appreciate ballet is important because the art requires both athleticism and grace. She said it teaches the girls how grit and sacrifice can give way to beauty.

In the lobby after the show, the girls chattered with cousins around their age about how much they loved the show. Both said their older cousin was amazing.

“She was really something,” Hailey said.

They appreciated the performances of the other dancers, too.

“What they did was strong,” Ashley said. “They had to be really strong to do it, but it had to be so beautiful.”

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