It’s less than two weeks until Ballet Pensacola performs the ultimate holiday dance, “The Nutcracker.” Inside the studio, Joey Mounce, the Nutcracker Prince, and Erin Lapaglia, the Ballerina Doll, are dancing the Chocolate Dance while the rest of the cast sits casually under the barres. When the dance is over, Mounce and Lapaglia wait for the critique.
“It needs to be more aloof,” said Richard Steinert, artistic director for Ballet Pensacola. “You know how aloof chocolate is.”
Next up is Kayla Bartlett, Clara, and Mounce dancing the Snow Pas de Deux, which is right before the characters enter the Land of Sweets. Barlett smiles brightly even though a dreary light is coming from the windows and she’s almost out of breath. At the end she looks at herself in the mirror and holds her pose.
“I love that part,” she said.
“When I was casting the part of Clara I was looking for someone who could go from little girl to young woman and still maintain that beautiful sense of innocence,” Steinert said.
Also, Steinert did have to opt for the ballerina that looks most like Clara.
“This is the first year we didn’t cast a young Clara, so obviously I had to cast someone who would be believable as a young girl,” Steinert said. “If she’s 6’3 no one’s going to believe the character.”
Ballet Pensacola has been practicing “The Nutcracker” for about a month. The dancers rehearse in between teaching classes. Steinert said the dancers work 40 hours a week, just like any full-time job.
You might wonder what makes this year’s production of “The Nutcracker” any different from previous years. But as the company changes and dancers breathe new life into the classic characters, you’ll never see the same “Nutcracker” twice.
“This is the strongest artistic company since I’ve been here,” Steinert said. He has been with Ballet Pensacola for 24 years.
“The Nutcracker” is a part of Pensacola’s holiday tradition. No matter if you’re a ballet-lover or not, it’s a must-see for families. And even though Steinert and the dancers have been immersing themselves in the Land of Sweets, it never quite gets old.
“I’m not one of those directors who are jaded by “The Nutcracker.” I might get tired of hearing it when I’m pumping my gas, but not in the studio,” Steinert said.
Kristen Springer is in her fourth year at Ballet Pensacola. Last year, she was Dream Clara, this year she is the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“It’s a totally different type of dancing,” Springer said. “It can be very tiring—stamina wise.”
When searching for the right dancer to play the coveted role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Steinert said that she would have to shine inside and out.
“I was looking for the quintessential ballerina—a gracious and grateful creature,” Steinert said. “She had to sparkle physically and emotionally. Someone that makes you say ‘Ahh, that’s a ballerina.’”
Like Steinert, Springer doesn’t tire of the music either, but she does have to fight the urge to dance.
“I still get excited to do it,” Springer said of the production. “I can’t listen to the music without doing a run-through in my head.”
You might remember Tyler Day as the bloodthirsty womanizer in this year’s “Dracula.” He’s not quite sure how many times he’s danced in “The Nutcracker.” “Too many,” he said. Yet he enjoyed the chance to shake off the dark role from
October and be joined again with Springer.
“It’s such an absolute difference,” Day said of his part as The Cavalier. “It’s nice to dance this role and partner with Kristen again. Working with her is great.”
Although the male dancers have the pleasure to dance with the beautiful ballerinas at Ballet Pensacola, it is strictly business.
“It’s a nice bonus, but it’s my job,” Day said as “The Waltz of the Flowers” played in the background.
Steinert hopes this holiday classic will lead to a further love for the art of ballet.
“While we love the tradition people share we hope to inspire them to attend repertoire performances that put “So You Think You Can Dance” to shame,” Steinert said.
Springer, who has been dancing since the age of three, began her ballet career after watching “The Nutcracker.”
“I can’t imagine a Christmas without it,” she said. “It’s a great way to spend time with your family.”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16 and Saturday, Dec. 17 and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
WHERE: 118 S. Palafox
DETAILS: pensacolasaenger.com or balletpensacola.com