When asked about the ninth annual performance of “The Nutcracker,” Heidi Longwith, artistic director of the Tennessee Youth Ballet, said, “There are moments in ‘The Nutcracker’ that touch hearts more than others — the Snow Queen dancing through the hush of snowflakes falling to the stage, Drosselmeyer protecting Clara in her frightening dreams and making the Christmas Tree grow 40 feet, the Littlest Mouse nibbling her stolen candy apple who is then shot by soldiers with a confetti canon, and Dewdrop and Sugar Plum.
These are favorite moments of hers on stage, Longwith said, “but the heartbeat of Nutcracker lives in rehearsal where it is created.”
She said for every beautiful moment of Nutcracker performed on the stage, the staff of the Tennessee Youth Ballet spends countless hours in preparation coaching dancers. Dance lessons are life lessons. Tennessee Youth Ballet teaches children to discipline their minds, their bodies, and to express themselves as artists. Children learn to believe in themselves and the beauty of their dreams through dance.
Their reward for dance excellence is self-confidence on stage, a magnificent performance and a sense of discipline that carries over to everyday life. “Seeing that evolve in each student inspires me year after year to create [a new production of] ‘The Nutcracker,’ which has become a family tradition worthy of repeating,” Longwith explained.
The children dancing “The Nutcracker” have their own special memories to share, too, she added. Maddie Robinson, who is dancing the lead as Clara, said, “I remember watching Madyson Foster dancing as Clara, and it became a dream of mine to dance that role, too.”
Paige Wenger said, “I went to Yates and after seeing ‘Nutcracker’ on our second-grade field trip, I began taking dance class. This year I get to dance with my parents because they [portray] Party Parents,” she said
“I remember being the Littlest Mouse and now I am dancing in ‘Snow.’ And I love that my Dad is always Drosselmeyer,” Lindsay Markham commented.
Longwith went on to say, “It is important to create special dance memories during childhood that will last a lifetime.” She said not everyone who takes dance class will become a professional dancer. What is important is to develop a patron of the arts, she continued, by instilling a great appreciation and love for it early on. “That is how art stays alive.”
Party Parents participating this year include Jason and Faith Robinson, Randy and Susan Smith, Easton and Mindy Wenger, Brad and LuAnne Winn, Mike Baker, Chauncey Whitlock, Hank Matheny, Traci Knocke and Taylor and Bethany Kline. Longwith said well over half of the Party Parents dance with their own children as Party Girls and Boys in Act One, creating fabulous memories.
“Hopefully these young dancers will become adults who encourage their children to participate in the arts based on their own joyful and rewarding experience with ‘The Nutcracker.’” She added that another glorious “Nutcracker” moment not to be missed is Martin Ringstaff and Bill Herron alternating in the comedic role of Mother Ginger. Twelve 4-year-old ballerinas come from underneath her (yes, her) gigantic skirt to perform as Polichinelles in Act Two.
When dancers were asked why the community should come to “The Nutcracker,” 7-year-old Dillon Bendola said, “Excitement on a scale of 1 to 10 — it’s a 10.” Dillon is the recipient of the Boys & Girls Clubs Dance Scholarship awarded by the Tennessee Youth Ballet. He participates in ballet twice a week, dances jazz and tap, and audits two other ballet classes.
Ten-year-old Sarah Alton said, “... because ballet is fun to do and it’s beautiful to watch. The Nutcracker” has some special moments, like when Clara dances with the Nutcracker — “looks so graceful.”
Cleveland City Schools second-graders, Tennessee Christian Preparatory School, and The Montessori School will attend “The Nutcracker” Dec. 9 at 9 a.m. Students are invited to stay and ask questions about the show to cast and crew after the performance. This performance is free and is Tennessee Youth Ballet’s Christmas gift to the city of Cleveland.
The Tennessee Youth Ballet is under the direction of Heidi Longwith and is located at the interior of the Village Green Town Center. Tickets may be purchased there Monday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. or at the door (according to availability). Tickets are $15 and $20. For more information, call 476-3030.