Morgan Broderick of Lake Placid will dance the role of Claire in the North Country Ballet Ensemble’s performance of the Nutcracker.
The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for fans of the show and a labor of love for those who put it together.
This year, the North Country Ballet Ensemble performed the popular ballet in Plattsburgh Nov. 23-25 and will perform in Lake Placid Dec. 1 and 2.
The performance was choreographed by resident choreographer Terpsie Toon of the Lake Placid School of Ballet and guest choreographers Rebecca Kelly of Rebecca Kelly Ballet and Michela Boschetto from the NCBE creative team.
Led by NCBE’s Artistic Director Alice Schonbek, the show will feature 70 local student dancers, 10 community members and guest ballerina Therese Wendler.
Guest performer Mikhail Ilyin, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia who dances for American Ballet Theatre, assumed the role of Cavalier in the Plattsburgh performance.
In Lake Placid, the role of Cavalier will be performed by Andres Neira of New Jersey Ballet.
But it isn’t all sugar plums and bonbons for the performers, many of whom take time out of their otherwise busy schedules to perfect their moves by rehearsing almost daily.
For Schonbek, it’s easy to justify devoting that much time—she has had a passion for the art form since she was a child and watching her students evolve is a major component of that passion.
“It’s the sheer number of hours of having to work to perfect things that aren’t necessarily natural for your body,” Schonbek said. “It’s a real balance between the athleticism and the finer points.”
An advanced training schedule for a ballerina is a full-time job. Between daily classes and rehearsals, a dancer can easily net more than 30 hours a week in practice time.
But the practice isn’t just about stretching and dancing—instructors analyze every motion and every position, and constantly make corrections.
“No matter how old you get you always have someone mentoring you,” Schonbek said. “The rehearsal process is all about being corrected.”
Teagan Plimpton, a 17-year-old senior at Peru High School who is playing five roles in the Nutcracker, can relate.
“You don’t ever get everything the first time you try it,” Plimpton said.
Besides school work and picking a college to attend after she graduates, Plimpton attends 2-hour-long ballet classes and practices that can last more than two hours several times a week, and has attended summer intensives, an intense summer camp for ballerinas.
Having danced since she was three, it’s safe to say it’s an intrinsic part of her life, like eating, sleeping and breathing.
“I like expressing myself through music,” Plimpton said. “It’s totally worth the work.”
Staying with ballet hasn’t always been easy, though. Besides the time it demands, Plimpton has never had full range of motion with her left hand, making it difficult for her to pull off some of the subtleties of certain ballet moves.
Her solution was to learn to work around the problem, a methodology that has paid off.
“When I first did the Nutcracker, I started off as a Bonbon,” Plimpton explained. “This year I’m playing North Wind, Chinese, Candy Cane, Arabian and Dew Drop.”
Plimpton is excited to play so many roles, but she’s even more excited to share the stage with Therese Wendler, a professional ballerina from New York City who will play the Sugar Plum Fairy and Queen of the North Winds in the Snow variation in this year’s performance.
Wendler has been performing the Nutcracker since she was seven, and said the show—with its dancing mice and spinning snowflakes— hasn’t lost its power for her.
“I think it’s the music,” Wendler said. “Tchaikovsky is absolutely beautiful. After all these years, there are still parts that build up emotionally in the music.”
As a child, Wendler began taking ballet lessons after her mother saw her walking around the house on her tip-toes. At first she didn’t care for it, but performing changed her mind.
“Performing is a natural high,” Wendler said. “Here I am, showing you what I can do—it takes it to another level.”
Wendler explained that different roles require different actions, which also takes the art form to a different level for her.
A villain’s hands are positioned differently than a non-villain’s, and the motions are stark, sharp and demanding.
In contrast, as the Queen of the North Winds she must use her body to emulate the movement of snow and how it relates to the occurrence of a snow storm that builds in intensity with the music.
Since the show has been co-choreographed by Rebecca Kelly, whom Wendler has worked with for nine years, she and the North Country dancers will be on the same page for their first full-cast rehearsal, which will happen just days before opening night.
“The nice thing is, I’ve worked with some of these students before, so I’m not a total stranger coming in,” Wendler said. “It’s inspiring for me. I want to encourage them to dance and enjoy it.”
Wendler added that she hopes that, in working with young ballet students, she can show them it is possible to become a professional ballerina, so long as they possess passion and are willing to commit to the full-time hours the art requires.
“To be a ballerina you have to have a strong mind and be strong in yourself,” Wendler said. “Ballet is not an easy world to be in, but if you love what you do it will come out in your art.”
The Lake Placid Performances will take place at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on 17 Algonquin Drive in Lake Placid on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for children (ages12 and under); $15 for seniors and students and $18 for adults. For reservations or ticket information, call the LPCA at (518) 523-2512 or visit LakePlacidArts.org.