FAIRBANKS - When the 'Nutcracker' opens, it’s at a Christmas party in the home of Clara, Fritz and their parents, and the stage is full of holiday cheer. Throughout the story — Clara’s gift of the Nutcracker, the battle with the Mouse King, her dream of the Land of Sweets, and her vision of the Sugar Plum — we see possibilities of the future through Clara’s eyes.
This year’s 'Nutcracker' also offers the young performers of North Star Ballet a glimpse into the possibilities of the world of ballet. Dancers Constanza Blankenship Murphy, Wendy Langton, Ira Hardy, Sophia Williams and David Zody trained at North Star Ballet and return after stints with Outside dance companies. Principal Dancers Christine Winkler and John Welker of the Atlanta Ballet return to perform the Sugar Plum and Cavalier, roles they performed in North Star’s 2007 performance.
“The dancers coming back have different experiences and a broader range,” said Norman Shelburne, North Star Ballet’s artistic director. “It’s always helpful for the younger dancers to work with them, since we’re so isolated. We don’t see professional ballet dancers on a regular basis.”
Nine girls in the North Star Ballet Senior Company dance the corps de ballet, dancing in lines and patterns, their movements perfectly synchronized. This year, with fewer company girls, Shelburne turned to his former dancers to dance the principal roles — knowing he could rely on the consistency and precision of the senior company to back them up.
“The corps de ballet provides a structure within which principal dancers can interact,” Shelburne said. “The principals and the corps play back and forth against each other in a visualization of the music.”
Murphy, who currently dances with her husband Paul Murphy in Mountain Ballet West and once worked as an assistant teacher at North Star, said, “They mesh and make a really good group together.”
North Star Ballet brings guests every year to dance some roles, depending on the needs of the company. These returning dancers bring both a familiarity with Shelburne’s staging and choreography and the desire to share what they have learned.
“It’s validating to our kids to have dancers who want to come back and dance with us and share their experiences,” Shelburne said. “It helps our kids understand that what we provide is of a high quality.”
Langton, currently performing with Missouri Contemporary Ballet, agreed: “Here they expect their students to be on top of things. When you go out into the big world, North Star has prepared you to do well.”
However, Shelburne added, “The percentage of kids who go on to have a career in dance is very small and not predictable. We’re a not a large school.”
Zody and Williams graduated from the studio most recently.
Zody, who recently performed in “High School Musical,” spent a year at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet before returning to Fairbanks last spring.
“The fundamentals of ballet I got from North Star Ballet,” he said, “At Central Pennsylvania, I expected to be the bottom guy, but I ranked near the top. They couldn’t understand how I could be so strong in partnering coming from a place so far away.”
Williams, who attended the Susanne Ferrell Ballet Summer Program and a summer training session at Pacific Northwest Ballet before deciding to accept a scholarship at UAF, also found her North Star experience set her apart.
“I had Pilates training at North Star, so I understood the Pacific Northwest conditioning concepts more than some who didn’t have that training,” she said. “Dancers who have danced Outside come back stronger in themselves and their artistry.”
And how do the dancers feel on returning to their home studio to perform?
“There’s a kind of freedom being back with teachers I’ve known and respected for years. I can be more open with them. I see it from a different angle,” Murphy said.
“I come back because it’s a way for me to give back and show that being a professional is possible,” Hardy added. “I have seen a couple of generations of kids go on to be professionals. Returning alumni let the kids have something to look up to.”
But Shelburne explained that even with the multitude of returning dancers, he has remained focused on the current students.
“North Star Ballet is the kids working hours and hours to make the corps de ballet look good so soloists can come in and look good,” he said. “Guests are the icing on the cake.”
Cynthia Hardy teaches English and writing at University of Alaska Fairbanks.
IF YOU GO
What: Nutcracker with the North Star Ballet
When: 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday, 2 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday
Tickets: reserved seats $24, $18 adults, $8 under 13, $16 students and seniors, half price for military, available at Artworks, Hoitt’s, Safeway at Bentley Mall, the North Star Ballet studios, and at the door.