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Ithaca Ballet takes on yearly holiday favorite

By Kelli Kyle

At the Ithaca Ballet studio on a Saturday afternoon, around a dozen girls catch their breath, preparing to assemble in formation. After a quick minute rest and a sip of water, they scurry to their places for the beginning of the number.

Company artistic director Cindy Reid hits play on the stereo, filling the open space with an all-too-familiar flute melody that the dancers have been listening to continually for the past month. From the corner, a ballerina hops out onto the “stage” — then another one, and another one, until suddenly the entire floor is consumed by dancers gracefully twirling around on their toes, transforming the pink-walled studio into the enchanting “Land of Snow.”

This is the beginning of the “Snow” variation, just one of the numbers featured in Ithaca Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, which premiered Nov. 29 in Geneva and continues Dec. 11, 12 and 13 at the State Theater in Ithaca.

The show follows the adventures of Clara, a young girl who dreams that her favorite nutcracker toy comes to life and transports her to two different fantasy worlds, where she meets all sorts of unique characters.

Choreographed by her sister, Reid says this version of the show has been a tradition at the Ithaca Ballet for about 30 years.

“The company dancers love it, the young kids coming up love it,” Reid said. “It creates all these festive feelings and holiday feelings.”

The Ithaca Ballet Company is a non-profit dance group co-founded by Reid’s mother, Alice, in the 1960s. The Ballet Center of Ithaca is the company’s official training school, privately owned by Reid. Company members are aged 13 to 30 years old and contain a mix of middle, high school and college students — and even a few working adults. Many of Reid’s company dancers have performed in the Ithaca Ballet’s Nutcracker for years, working their way up through the different show roles.

“Everybody who’s grown up in the school starts as a mouse or a party child, and just goes on through the ranks,” Reid said.

Rachel Myers, a teacher at the ballet school and principal dancer in the company, started studying at the Ballet Center of Ithaca when she was nine years old. She danced all throughout college and professionally before returning to the Ithaca Ballet Company. This year, she is returning to the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy, one of the most desired roles in the show.

“I started as a mouse, and working all the way up to getting to do sugar plum is really fun,” Myers said.

Cornell junior Keara Soloway has danced for thirteen years. Now a soloist in the ballet company, she has performed the Nutcracker with Ithaca Ballet since she was in fourth grade. In this year’s production, Soloway is dancing as her two favorite characters: Snow Queen and Coffee, also known as “Arabian” in other productions.

“There’s a sort of beautiful mysterious quality that you can bring to [Coffee]. It’s so delicious to dance that and feel that going through your body,” Soloway said. “Snow on the other hand…is much more of a pure beauty, I think. It’s lighter, it’s fresher, it feels like snow.”

With choreography coming from her sister, Reid’s production of the Nutcracker differs from others in the region that use choreography from different artists. In the Ithaca Ballet’s version, many of the original dance variation names are changed — for example, “Arabian” becomes Coffee, and “Russian” becomes Candy Canes.

Although she’s been involved with the show for thirty years, Reid said she is always entertained by the work of her dancers.

“I never get bored,” Reid said. “That’s hard to say about a lot of productions you have to see year after year, day after day, week after week.”

The production also features live accompaniment from the Finger Lakes Symphony Orchestra. For this year’s first show on Nov. 29, the cast traveled to Geneva to perform with the orchestra. Now — and for the past 10 years — the group has come down to the State Theater to play during the show’s Friday night performance, one that Reid said is the most popular.

“Something about the tuning up of the orchestra, so exciting,” Reid said. “Then the pitter patter of pointe shoes on the stage, so great.”

According to Reid, for many artistic directors, the Nutcracker production is an effective way to attract the community into the theater and show them something beautiful.

Myers said that over the years, the community has come to expect the Nutcracker production.

“It’s just a holiday tradition and the music and dancing,” Myers said. “It’s just a really fun family activity, and it’s really exciting.”

December 12 and 13 at 3:00 p.m. For ticket information, see the Ithaca Bwewebsite.

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