On Sunday, the Children’s Ballet Theatre hosted its 32nd annual performance of “The Nutcracker” at Wharton Center.
About 80 dancers participated in the performance, including 29 guest dancers. That number included MSU students and nine dancers from the Children’s Miracle Network.
“It’s just a great experience for the dancers to be able to be on the big stage,” Program Director Sue Powers said. “We do have a number of kids who want to be professional dancers and go into college and perform in the dance program as a major, and plan to go professional. So this gives them the opportunity to do a full-length ballet, which a lot of dancers don’t get that opportunity outside of this kind of setting, and to perform onstage in front of such a crowd.”
“The Nutcracker,” which was first performed in Russia in 1892, tells the story of a girl named Clara who receives a nutcracker on Christmas Eve. The nutcracker eventually is turned into a prince. The play includes the prince leading Clara to the Land of Sweets, a battle between toy soldiers and overgrown mice and a snow scene.
The Children’s Ballet Theatre, or CBT, is a nonprofit organization based in Lansing’s Old Town. CBT was founded 33 years ago and long has been a showcase for young dancers ranging from ages 8-18 in the Lansing area.
The performance included 10 high school seniors who are graduating from CBT after this year. Powers said that the senior class ranged from dancers who joined when they were 8 or 9 to dancers who joined a few years ago.
Okemos High School senior Alison Rhodes has been in CBT since she was 10 years old. With “The Nutcracker” being one of her last performances, she said dancing as the guardian angel was an emotional experience for her.
“It’s definitely sad; it’s bittersweet,” she said. “I finally am a senior, but I can’t think about leaving. It’s such a big part of my life.”
According to Powers, CBT is almost exclusively parent-run. Other than the artistic director and ballet mistress, the company is driven by parent volunteers, including parents of past members who decided to stay.
“It’s really about parents coming, seeing what we’re doing, wanting to get involved and just having a willingness to put in a tremendous amount of work and hours so that these kids can put on a good show,” Powers said.
Powers said performing at Wharton Center is a “lucrative” opportunity for both the dancers and the company. In addition to experiencing performing on the big stage, the dancers are able to see the behind-the-scenes work as well, giving them a full picture of what it takes to run a full-length ballet.
“They get appreciation for the technical part of what goes into putting a show on,” Powers said.
Parent volunteer Shari Dann, a professor in the MSU Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, said CBT is one of the few companies that utilizes Wharton Center.
“It’s an amazing opportunity that our dancers can dance on the stage,” Dann said.
The experience the dancers gain from performing makes CBT a great way of getting a head start into the performing arts industry, according to Powers. However, she noted that the amount of daily work the program requires can be intense for some dancers.
“It takes a lot of dedication,” she said. “You give up all your weekends, so it’s a matter of what your priorities are and what your dreams are, and for a lot of these kids, the dream is to become a professional dancer. CBT gives them that opportunity.”
After taking a break in December, CBT will begin preparing for its spring performance of “Sleeping Beauty” in January 2013.