For many girls, The Nutcracker is a dream. The story of course captures a girl named Clara’s dream before Christmas day as her nutcracker turns into a prince and guides her through a Land of Sweets, a forest of snowflakes and meeting the Sugar Plum Fairy. But for many dancers who start watching the production at age 3 or 4, it’s just as much of a dream to get a role as a party girl, soldiers or especially the highly-coveted Clara herself. And for the past five years, dancers in Vestavia Hills have gotten to do just that in the Magic City Nutcracker production.
Ballet mistress Jamie Grimes says the production fosters drive in other young aspiring dancers. “I think it’s a great experience for the kids because they see a real ballet come to life,” she says. “They also get a sense of the acting portion of it and how it’s not just about learning steps on repetition in the classroom, but you bring a character to life on stage. Then they see the other girls dancing and think ‘I want to do this part next year.’ It gives them a sense of motivation to keep working hard in class.”
The Magic City Nutcracker performance as the brain child of Kelly Avery and Stephanie Rangel, its director and artistic director, respectively. “When we set out to create a Nutcracker ballet, we wanted to tailor the choreography and the story to our dancers and our audience,” Stephanie says. The production is housed in the Vestavia Dance studios at Vestavia United Methodist Church, but as a separate entity from Vestavia Dance, it draws from six dance studios and uses more than 15 local professional actors.
To tailer this production to their audience, they eliminated any dark undertones they say that sometimes show up in Nutcracker productions and added the role of the Christmas Spirit. “She is the character that pushes the story forward,” Stephanie explains. “Drosselmeyer uses his magic for simple illusions at the party and he guides his niece, Clara, through the blizzard, but it is the Christmas Spirit who blesses Clara throughout the entire story. She is the symbol of peace, forgiveness and love that we cling to during the Christmas season, and we thought it was important that we attribute the story to her.”
To tailor the show to their dancers, they also created all-new choreography specifically for the array of talent in their cast. “Our ballet is a very family-friendly performance,” Stephanie says. “There are various types of dancers on the stage including adorable young children, adult professional actors, talented dance students and professional ballet dancers. There truly is something for everyone to enjoy.”
As for the dancers, they love doing the show as well, with each of them talking expressively about how much The Nutcracker means to them, both as a story and as a ballet. “It’s such a fun one to perform, just being in the different roles and just getting to grow as a dancer,” says Ellen Farris, a senior dancer in the show. “It’s really helped me.” Katie Glenn, another senior dancer, agrees, noting how being in the production for the past five years has been a major step in her path to become a professional dance and own her own dance studio—a path whose next step is studying business and dance at Auburn University next year.
The visionaries behind the production hope it brings meaning to those who come to see it as well. “I would love for our audience members to see these beautiful girls and appreciate their versatility,” Stephanie says. “It is a testament to the timeless nature of ballet as an art form. I hope that [they] enjoy watching the youngest of dancers on stage and feel their contagious and adorable joy as they perform, and I hope that everyone walks away feeling the true spirit of the Christmas season.”
Magic City Nutcracker will be performed on Dec. 1 and 2 at 7 p.m. and on Dec. 3 at 2 p.m. at the Vestavia Hills Methodist Church in the Tyson Hall Theater at 2061 Kentucky Ave. To learn more visit magiccitynutcracker.org.
UPDATE: This story was updated on Dec. 5 to reflect that Jamie Grimes serves as ballet mistress, Stephanie Rangle serves as artistic director, and The Magic City Nutcracker uses Vestavia Dance studios but it is its own entity.