Dancers with Ballet Chicago performed holiday classic “The Nutcracker” at Chicago Cultural Center, December 2.

Cultural Center’s “The Nutcracker” invited all dance lovers to perform

By Xiaoyi Liu
Medill Reports

“The Nutcracker”ballet is a holiday classic that sets the tone for the season at national opera houses and school stages across the world. Through beautiful music and charming choreography, it celebrates the holidays by taking audiences on an unforgettable journey with young Clara as she travels from her home on Christmas Eve to the Land of the Sweets.

But dance lovers of all ages and abilities came to point their toes in Tchaikovsky’s ballet at the Chicago Cultural Center on Sunday. Participants learned the basic ballet positions and movements taught by members of Ballet Chicago at an optional lesson before joining in the performance of “The Nutcracker”.

“She has loved the Nutcracker story since she was a little over a year old, and she loves to dance,” said Chicagoan Julie Trent, who brought her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter to dance. “She enjoys it and I enjoy watching her. She is a free spirit, so she really likes to move and she loves music.”

She joined the dozens of amateur dancers on stage who took roles with the Chicago Ballet performers, adding lots of energy and their most beautiful steps to the magic world of the Nutcracker.

Music for “The Nutcracker” was provided by the symphonic band of Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles, one of Chicago’s premier performance groups for the LGBTQ community.

Identifying herself as pansexual, Vahona Richardson, 49, had been volunteering with Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles since May, so as to “do something for the community” that she enjoyed. She said it was fun to be there watching little kids dance, and spending time with her “musical peers” at the same time.

Richardson started playing clarinet at the age of 12 and clarinet helped her make it through her parents’ divorce when she was younger. “It kept me occupied,” she said. “It gave me a goal when there’s a lot of chaos going on in my life.”

Paris Stigger of Ballet Chicago performed with the “Russian dancers” in the  role of the Candy Canes in Land of Sweets.“It’s a very long but short career,” he said, referring to the fact that being a professional ballet dancer requires time and a lot of sweat, yet they also have to battle against time to reach perfection in the short-lived time of most dance careers. But seeing kids “wanting to become dancers is kind of cool, knowing that we can be one of the reasons that inspires them to do it.”

Emma Wittig, also with Ballet Chicago, has been dancing since she was three, and played roles in “The Nutcracker” from the age of seven.  “I have been Clara – when I was little,” Wittig said. “I’ve pretty much been everything of Nutcracker, but this is my first year doing the Sugar Plum.”

The role of Sugar Plum Fairy in ballet is played by the principal female dancer of a troupe. “It’s a lot of pressure, but in a good way,” Wittig said. She faced the stresses such as living up to the expectation, and trying to be as good as the multiple ballerinas who had played that role before. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity, but it’s also very scary,” Wittig said.

Katherine Alvarado, lead “Arabian dancer” playing the role of Coffee in Land of Sweets, agreed. Stepping on a stage means “you carry the pride of all of your teachers standing behind you,” said the Ballet Chicago performer.

Now 25, Alvarado decided to become a professional ballet dancer at 17, after dancing in ballets as an amateur. “The industry is very small,” she said, and because it is so small, the job openings are very limited.

“It’s like the Olympics, you start preparing yourself from the first second that you realized that this is what you want,” she said. “It takes a lot of training and a lot of hard work.”

Photo at top: Dancers with Ballet Chicago performed holiday classic “The Nutcracker” at Chicago Cultural Center, December 2, inviting amateur participants to join the troupe in the performance. (Xiaoyi Liu/MEDILL)