Big-time ballerinas

Columbia children get dancing roles in ‘The Great Russian Nutcracker’
Tuesday, November 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:02 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008


From left, Alexa Magee,7, Kylie Jacks, 9, and Anna Shull, 6, practice for the ballet performance of the Nutcracker at Dancearts in Columbia on Nov. 18. The students will perform the Nutcracker with the Moscow Ballet at the end of this month. (IKURU KUWAJIMA/Missourian)

Sydney Gilbreth and Rachel Spurling want to be professional ballerinas, and today and Wednesday, they will get their chances.

The Moscow Ballet is coming to the Missouri Theatre for a performance of “The Great Russian Nutcracker,” and the company has chosen children from Columbia to play snowflakes, mice, party guests, angels and dancers for traditional French, Spanish, Chinese and Arabian dances.

The inclusion of local children in the performance is part of “Celebrating Children: The Arts Make A Difference,” the Moscow Ballet’s education campaign.

“It’s important to integrate children,” said Beth Murdock, publicist for the Moscow Ballet. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience.”

Dancearts was selected to rehearse the children dancing with the company this year. The studio works frequently with the Missouri Theatre, and the theater contacted the dance studio about rehearsing the dancers, said Kari Hannan-Scott, classical ballet instructor and part-owner of the studio.

“The opportunity to work with a Russian company is few and far between,” Hannan-Scott said. “It’s different than dancing at a recital.”

The weight of working with professional dancers doesn’t escape the girls, and the dancers encourage the young ones, said Rachel, 7. Of course, the glamour doesn’t escape them, either.

“You feel like a star or something,” said Sydney, 6. “You feel like you’re their age.”

More than 60 child dancers from mid-Missouri were cast in various roles in an open audition in September. A dancer from the Moscow Ballet came to Columbia and auditioned, cast and taught the choreography, and Hannan-Scott took over rehearsals.

The Moscow Ballet’s interpretation of “The Nutcracker” is unique because instead of the Land of Sweets, Clara visits the Land of Peace and Harmony in the second act. Artistic director and principal dancer Anatoli Emelianov came up with the idea, Murdock said.

The ballet works with different charities in each city it visits, Murdock said. Some tickets for the Columbia performances were sold through the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, with a portion of the proceeds going to the center.

Surely with all those aspiring dancers, there’s bound to be some miniature cat-fighting between snowflakes and mice. Not so, said Rachel.

“It’s not like a competition, it’s really fun,” she said. “You get to be with all your friends.”

Someday, she wants to study dance at The Juilliard School.

And their favorite part of being a ballerina?

“I don’t really have a favorite part,” said Sydney. “I like it all.”

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