Not many local events can claim a legacy that spans 40-plus years. The North Carolina State Ballet’s presentation of “The Nutcracker” is one such treasured tradition. “The Nutcracker” invites audience members to immerse themselves in Christmas spirit with the beauty of classical ballet performed to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. Performance dates are Dec. 8 and 9 at the Crown Complex Theatre.
This production proudly calls
Fayetteville its home thanks to Charlotte Blume. In the 1960s, the NC State Ballet was based in Raleigh, and Blume was its prima donna. When the director stepped down, Blume took over — and took the company with her to her home in Fayetteville, where she owned the Charlotte Blume School of Dance. Her studio, nestled in downtown Fayetteville, became home for the NC State Ballet.
Blume oversaw production on “The Nutcracker” every year from 1975 until she passed away two and- a half-years ago.
Dina Lewis, NC State Ballet board member and vice president of the company for the past three years, attended Terry Sanford High School with Blume and shared a close friendship with her. Lewis said Blume’s passion was to bring the arts to Fayetteville and to give everyone the opportunity to see a classical ballet.
“Ms. Blume’s last words were to keep (“The Nutcracker”) produced and to keep, every year, something fresh,” Lewis said. “And every year since her passing, we have had something fresh going on, whether a set change or costume change. The only thing that’s remained untouched is her core choreography.”
“The Nutcracker” ballet, which first debuted in 1892, is a dreamy, wonder-filled story that has both evergreen appeal and plenty of room for the yearly innovation Blume encouraged. Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, the ballet is based on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” which was written in 1816. The ballet follows a young girl, Clara, whose Uncle Drosselmeyer — a magician — on Christmas Eve gifts her a nutcracker carved as a toy soldier. That night, Clara’s dreams transport her to a world where she meets enchanted characters like the Nutcracker Prince, the evil Mouse King, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Mother Ginger. She also, as goes dream logic, visits Spain, Russia and China.
This year, Lewis said, it’s the Mother Ginger scene that boasts that “something fresh” Blume wanted — an all-new costume made by one of the dance moms, Rhonda Drewery. “We also added probably an additional 12 cast members to (that scene) this year,” Lewis said. “We’re really excited about that. I kind of think it’s going to steal the show.”
Fifty-seven dancers ages 7-18 comprise this year’s cast. They’ve been rehearsing for almost five months. “The majority of them have been (dancing) with us since they were babies,” Lewis said. “They’re all our homegrown students.”
Lewis said she’s impressed by the level of work ethic and multifaceted talent she sees in the dancers, specifically naming Marissa Morris, Evelyn Hairr and Ella Lewis as shining examples.
“These are people who are varsity cheerleaders, participate in Student Government Association, cross country. … They’re in Honor Society. They’re in Key Club. It’s amazing that they still come to the studio on time, and they stay late and get the job done.”
Hairr shares the role of Grown Clara with Hannah Reeder; Novalee English and Haebin Drewery play Little Clara. Jacqueline Sullivan and Isabella Rogers share the role of Fritz, Clara’s younger brother. Ella Lewis and Morris both portray the Snow Queen and Jewel, and Lewis also portrays Sugar Plum along with guest artist Deprecia Simpson.
Adam Chavis and Sheila Mitchell served as primary choreographers.
Morris, Hairr and Ella Lewis are also three of several advanced Charlotte Blume School of Dance students who were selected to dance minor roles with the Moscow Ballet’s Fayetteville stop on its traveling tour for “Great Russian Nutcracker.”
“So, this whole time, they’ve not only rehearsed for our production of ‘The Nutcracker,’ but they’re also rehearsing for Moscow’s production, which is totally different choreography,” Lewis said. “These are professional Russian ballerinas and ballet masters. It’s a very big honor and opportunity.” That performance takes place at the Crown Theatre Dec. 10. Learn more about it at www.crowncomplexnc.com.
In the midst of striving for excellence for their own performance, Lewis said, a family atmosphere remains important and emphasized. Dancers focus on how they can help others get better rather than how they can outdo each other. It helps that the dancers’ parents have a strong presence in the production, whether that’s in a behind-the-scenes role like costuming or whether that’s onstage. “The Mouse King this year is a teenager, and her dad is in the party scene,” Lewis said.
“It’s this wholesome tradition. … It takes you to a place where you remember your childhood. It’s a story of this little girl who has this beautiful fantasy dream and it all comes to life. I think that’s what growing up is all about. You have these dreams and hopes, and you should always shoot for it all. If you don’t try, you’re going to miss out. I think the story of Clara really brings that all into focus.”
See “The Nutcracker” Dec. 8 and 9 at the Crown Complex Theatre at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $20 for adults; $10 for children 12 and under; and are free for children under 5. Call 910-484-3466 to purchase tickets. Learn more about the Charlotte Blume School of Dance at www.charlotteblumeschoolofdance.com.