By Josette Keelor
The retelling of "The Nutcracker" long has been a Christmas tradition for many theatergoers each year, and Susan Muterspaugh, artistic director of The Rockingham Ballet Theatre, anticipates another large turnout this year at the group's third year in a row performing at The Schultz Theatre in New Market.
"We've actually been doing 'The Nutcracker' for almost 20 years at Bridgewater College," Muterspaugh said. "It's really the only ballet that you're going to find in Shenandoah County in terms of full length classical story ballets."
But this year will be different.
For the first time in the Rockingham Ballet Theatre's history, the Christmas ballet will include a full-length Sugar Plum Grand Pas de Deux, with teenage dancers Jessica Grant as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Daniel Ranck the Cavalier.
Previously, Muterspaugh said, the theater would include only the Sugar Plum Fairy in that portion of the famed two-act ballet that made its premier on Dec. 18, 1892 with the music of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
"We're really fortunate to have two advanced dancers that are capable of doing this choreography," Muterspaugh said, "because it's very challenging."
Grant, 19, has spent several summers training with Richmond Ballet, Muterspaugh said. Ranck, 17, studied with the American Ballet Theatre's satellite program at the North Carolina School for the Arts, the director said.
Both are residents of Augusta County and plan for careers in dance.
"If you have this kind of role in 'The Nutcracker,'" Muterspaugh said, "you've been dancing for most of your life." -- Grant since she was 3 and Ranck since he was 8, she said.
"'The Nutcracker' is a production that's younger dancer friendly," she added, "but the main roles are danced by accomplished teenage dancers."
The ballet also includes eight adult roles.
Madison Garber, 10, of New Market, has performed with the ballet for last few years, in New Market and Bridgewater, Muterspaugh said. This year Madison will perform as Spun Sugar -- the 19th century's version of cotton candy, said Muterspaugh.
The story of a girl named Clara who, after receiving a wooden nutcracker for Christmas, finds herself in a dream world filled with mice, personified holiday sweets and a life sized dancing version of her Christmas nutcracker, the ballet's enduring popularity has lasted for more than 50 years around the United States.
"I think that the music for one thing really appeals to people," Muterspaugh said.
"What we have heard from people who come back year after year, they feel as if the holiday season hasn't started until they've seen 'The Nutcracker.'"
Coralie Keplinger shares the role of Clara with Ranck's sister, Moriel, and their brother Noah Ranck and Grant's brother Matthew share the role of the Nutcracker prince.
Every role in the ballet is double cast, except for the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, Muterspaugh said.
"It's a sweet story," she said. "It's a story that a lot of children can relate to, but adults really love it too."
"I think that for anyone who hasn't seen 'The Nutcracker,' and doesn't know much about ballet, they will be very taken by it if they come to see it."
"The Nutcracker" will take place Dec. 7 to 9 at The Schultz Theatre, at 9357 N. Congress St., New Market. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets will be $12 for adults, $10 for children in advance, or $2 more at the door. For more information, call 740-9119 or visit www.schultztheatre.com.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org