by Sally Hogarty Correspondent - Contra Costa Times
December 6, 2012
Alameda Civic Ballet serves up a sweet confection this holiday season with its eighth annual production of "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 15 and 16 at the Kofman Auditorium.
According to artistic director and choreographer Abra Rudisill, about 170 dancers will bring the magic of this holiday classic to life.
"We have students as young as 5 years old, teenagers, adults and, of course, our wonderful professional guest artists," Rudisill said. "We even have a vintage ballroom dance group who adds a special touch to the ballroom scene."
A festive Sugar Plum Party follows each performance where audience members can meet the cast and enjoy a special flavor of Tucker's Ice Cream created just for the show.
Rudisill's years as a professional dancer, including 20 years with Oakland Ballet as a principal ballerina and ballet mistress, give her a vast experience to draw from when working with her diverse group of performers.
"The dancers also teach me so much," she said. "After so many years of dancing, I had forgotten how exciting it is to perform for the first time. It's lovely to be reminded of that feeling and to watch the older dancers take on challenges and succeed."
One of Rudisill's teen performers is Lincoln Middle School eighth-grader Yingru Huang, who plays Clara in this year's show.
"I've studied ballet at Alameda Ballet Academy for eight years and have been in all the full-length productions of 'The Nutcracker,' " Huang said. "I've played a Ginger Snap, an Angel and even a Chinese Dragon, but I feel so fortunate to play Clara this year."
While Huang easily relates to a young girl falling in love with a special toy, she said it can be a challenge to show the emotional side of Clara while also executing the precise ballet movements.
"I watched the Royal Ballet's 'Nutcracker' to see how they play and dance their roles," Huang said. "I admire them so much, and it helped me with ideas for Clara."
Making his debut with ACB is Alameda High School junior Justin Modeliste. A recent transplant from New Orleans, he plays the Nutcracker Prince.
"I saw the show last year and knew I wanted to audition," Modeliste said.
One of the more challenging aspects of his role is performing the stylized movements and fight scene wearing the giant Nutcracker head. "It really restricts your movements and can get pretty hot inside," he explained.
Fortunately for Modeliste, he doesn't wear the oversized head when the Nutcracker transforms into the Nutcracker Prince.
"Then I get to show my dancing skills," he said. "My favorite is the 'Russian Dance.' There are lots of jumps and turns. It's really exciting."
Returning as the Snow Queen and Snow King are Nikki and Ethan White. Formerly with Smuin Ballet, the husband and wife team won third place on CBS's "Live to Dance" in 2011. Other professional dancers in this year's "Nutcracker" include: Michael Galloway, Alex Lytton, Matthew Linzer, and Mayo Sugano.
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