Metropolitan Ballet Theatre’s 28th annual production of “The Nutcracker” opens at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center, Montgomery College on Dec. 2. Close to 100 dancers will have been rehearsing for eleven weeks to present six shows over two weekends—Dec. 2, 3, 4 and Dec. 9, 10 and 11. Artistic Director Elizabeth Odell Catlett estimates that more than 100 hours of rehearsal will be completed before the curtain rises.
As impressive as this is, talk to Metropolitan Ballet Theatre (MBT) dancers and parents and you’ll discover something even more inspiring. It’s like the conclusion of the W.B. Yeats poem “Among School Children”: ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’
“Every child who auditions is given a role,” said Michele Kaufman whose daughters Colette, Nadine and Ella dance with MBT. “Every role is important. … What happens when you miss a rehearsal? They learn that everyone is important.”
Ella Rommel, 14, who dances as Clara in this, her eighth “Nutcracker” production, said, “I love how ‘The Nutcracker’ brings people together. … I love that we (MBT) bring so many people together no matter what your size or your age.”
“There’s a place for everybody,” echoed Colette Kaufman, 12, who dances as a Russian in this, her fifth “Nutcracker” production, “and you can always get better.”
“When you’re in ‘The Nutcracker,’ you meet a lot of new people,” noted Ella Kaufman, 10, who plays a lieutenant toy soldier in this, her fourth “Nutcracker” production.
New this year is inclusion of younger dancers in the challenging “Waltz of the Flowers.” Artistic Director Catlett explained that this is the hardest dance in the ballet at seven minutes long, and it is usually done by professional dancers and the most advanced students. MBT’s 28th annual “Waltz of the Flowers” will feature four 10-year-old dancers. “It will be exciting to see the sweetness” of the younger dancers, Catlett said.
Members of the community appear each year as celebrity guest Mother Gingers. This year’s celebrity guest cast includes Gaithersburg City Councilmember Robert Wu, Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen, Melanie Alnwick from Fox5, Quince Orchard High School football coach John Kelley, and children’s entertainer The Great Zucchini. The 28th annual production also includes one female and three male professional dancers.
The dance company’s commitment to sharing the joy of dance with the community is another reason that parents and students value their involvement in MBT. “I really like all the outreach that they do,” said Michele Kaufman. “This is why I joined the board.”
Ella Rommel’s mother, Tonie, concurred. “MBT does a lot of outreach,” she said, adding that students just performed excerpts from “The Nutcracker” at the Ring House in Rockville, an assisted living facility for seniors.
Other outreach efforts include the Girl Scout Nutcracker Patch chats after select performances (Dec. 3, 4 and 10). “Every year they do the Girl Scouts talks,” explained Michele Kaufman. “They give background on ‘The Nutcracker,’ what it’s like to be in the production, the composer and music, and the girls talk.” Kaufman said the she is impressed by how articulate the dancers are, and how confident they are when speaking before a group.
Confidence that is built by MBT’s Big-Little program that pairs older and younger dancers in supportive relationships. “There’s an SGA within the MBT—Big Sister-Little Sister nights out, outreach program coordination,” explained Michele Kaufman.
“I really love the Big-Little program,” said her daughter Nadine, 10, who plays a lieutenant toy soldier in this, her fourth “Nutcracker” production. “There are all these activities so you get to know people.”
“You communicate and watch each other’s classes or sometimes participate if it’s a ‘Little’ class,” said her sister Ella.
All of which forges friendships. “I have a lot of great friends at MBT,” said Samantha Stillwell, 14, who plays Clara in this, her sixth “Nutcracker” production.
“I have so many great friends,” agreed Colette Kaufman. “We all help each other out with choreography.”
Dancers do homework together, too, in MBT’s new sound-proof study room between rehearsals. With the many hours of rehearsal, not to mention dedication to study required of ballet program students, “they have to be very detail-oriented,” said Michele Kaufman. “They can’t let anything slide. It sets them up for life lessons.”