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Local Teen Choreographs Rendition of “The Nutcracker”

Fourteen-year-old Hanna Searls of Silver Bay has a passion for classical ballet. This passion has led her to share her love for dance by teaching at Wings of Eagles Ballet Studio. Wings of Eagles is a small studio located in Two Harbors that offers ballet classes free of charge to youth. Currently, Searls teaches 23 students ranging in age from four to eleven. Searls choreographed two prior ballets for her students, and each performance begins with a lyrical piece presented by each level in accordance with the season. Lyrical pieces allow students to express themselves through the music’s words, and help them focus on what they are sharing through dance. This season’s lyrical pieces focused on Christmas.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, but it didn’t become the Christmas tradition it is today until George Balachine staged it for the New York City Ballet in 1954. Searls wanted to bring this tradition to her students. Between adapting existing choreography and creating choreography of her own, Searls developed a rendition accessible to her students.

The story of The Nutcracker begins at a Christmas party hosted by young Clara (Natalie Symons). Clara, her sister Madeline, and their guests (Brooke Symons, Britta Dreier, Teyla Lillis, and Graciah Poe) dance and wait for Clara’s uncle, Drosselmeyer, to arrive with presents. Drosselmeyer arrives and presents a life-sized windup doll (Hanna Searls) who dances for the guests.

After the doll dances, Drosselmeyer then gifts toys to each of the guests. Madeline is originally happy with the doll she is given, but then she sees Clara’s doll and becomes jealous. Throwing down her doll, Madeline throws a fit done ballet-style, meaning she launches into a dance with strong leaps and turns, culminating in her snatching Clara’s doll and running offstage.

Drosselmeyer sees the heartbroken Clara and presents her with another gift – that of the titular Nutcracker. Clara is delighted, but Madeline comes back on stage and notices that Clara has received another gift. The sisters fight over the Nutcracker, resulting in the Nutcracker becoming broken, much to the horror of the guests. Drosselmeyer again comes to the rescue, fixing the broken Nutcracker.

The party ends and the guests and Drosselmeyer leave. Clara, excited for Christmas, falls asleep on the couch with her Nutcracker. As she sleeps, she enters into a dream. Clara’s dream forms the other half of The Nutcracker.

Clara’s dream begins with mice sneaking onto stage. The mice creep over to a plate of gingerbread cookies, which they devour. They then scuttle behind the couch on which Clara sleeps. In her dream, Clara wakes up, holding the Nutcracker. She hears something and looks around. Suddenly, the mice leap out and startle her. They chase her around the stage until Clara is frozen in the center of the stage in fright. The mice then perform échappés and run to the side of the stage to collect swords.

Drosselmeyer runs down the aisle and onto the stage, taking the Nutcracker from Clara. As he runs back down the aisle with the Nutcracker, tin soldiers that have come to life march in the scene followed by the Nutcracker himself come to life (Josiah Poe). As the Nutcracker and soldiers reach the stage, the Mouse King (Finn T.) comes out, complete with scarred mouse head, gold crown, and royal cape.

The soldiers charge towards the mice, and the mice scatter in fright. The soldiers then begin to battle the mice. Some of the fighting takes place offstage near the audience, while other fighting remains on the stage. The soldiers and mice freeze as the Nutcracker and the Mouse King face each other in a duel. Frightened, Clara attempts to stop the Mouse King, but he grabs her arm and swings her to the floor.

Enraged, the Nutcracker attacks the Mouse King with renewed vigor, but the Mouse King succeeds in disarming the Nutcracker and knocking him to the ground. In the nick of time, the Nutcracker recovers his sword and strikes down the Mouse King. The victorious soldiers take the mice captive and march them down the aisle, with the soldier captain (Hanna Krekelberg) confiscating the Mouse King’s sword.

The Nutcracker helps Clara stand, and the two sit to watch the dreamland unfold. The Sugar Plum Fairy (Claire Dreier) enters and introduces the first dance, the “Waltz of the Snowflakes”. Drosselmeyer runs on stage, magically makes snowflakes appear and tosses them into the air, after which the Snow Queen appears with her entourage of snowflakes (Brooke Symons, Britta Dreier, and Teyla Lillis). The four dance, white costumes resembling the flurries of snow.

The next dance is traditionally called the “Russian Dance”, but in Searls’ rendition it was performed by the soldiers, who demonstrated jumps and battements. At the end of the dance, a rogue mouse (Lenora Schultz) sneaks on stage, mocking the soldiers’ dancing. This causes the soldier general (Melanie Bylsma) to chase her down the aisle, followed by the rest of the soldiers.

Entering next is the Spanish Dancer (Graciah Poe), wearing a flamboyant costume of red and black and carrying a fan. Graciah Poe demonstrated amazing flexibility with a sissone.

Following the Spanish Dancer, was what came to be the show-stealer. Drosselmeyer and Mother Ginger rolled a cardboard oven prop down the aisle. Upon arriving at the stage, Mother Ginger opens the oven door to reveal the gingerbread dancers. The role of gingerbread is danced by five girls ages four and five. They roll out of the oven and run onto the stage, skipping around Mother Ginger. At the end of their dance, they climb back in the oven and are rolled back down the aisle.

Graciah Poe follows with a solo for the next dance, the “Waltz of the Flowers.” The final character in Clara’s dreamland is the Sugar Plum Fairy. Costumed in tones of dark purples, blues, and reds, the Sugar Plum Fairy dances for Clara and the Nutcracker with grace and strength. After “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” the following sequences drew the ballet to a close.

The Nutcracker stands and bows to Clara, then walks down the aisle, turning back into a wooden Nutcracker. Clara yawns and falls asleep again. Drosselmeyer comes up the aisle, holding the toy Nutcracker, which he places in Clara’s arms. Clara awakes, looking around and wondering if it all was a dream. I asked some of the cast what they enjoyed about being a part of The Nutcracker.

Gracie Breden (Mouse) said she had fun. She also commented that she had to only pretend to eat the gingerbread cookies because they were made of paper.

Hilda Krekelberg (Mouse) said, “All the dancing has made me want to be a ballerina.” Madelynn Holbeck (Soldier) said, “I loved being in The Nutcracker! It was so fun! Especially fighting the mice!”

Hanna Krekelberg (Soldier Captain) said, “I’ve always liked watching The Nutcracker; it was fun to actually be a part of it this time!”

Melanie Bylsma (Soldier General) said, “The Nutcracker was fun! I was a soldier and an angel [the angel was in her lyrical piece]. My teachers were very helpful.”

Brooke Symons (Party Guest and Snowflake) said, “I loved being in The Nutcracker. It was so fun to have the privilege!” Finn T. (Mouse King) said, “It was fun doing the sword fight and being dragged across the stage.”

Britta (Party Guest and Snowflake) and Claire (Sugar Plum Fairy) Dreier thought it was special having all the new costumes and props this year.

Graciah Poe (Party Guest, Spanish Dancer, and Flower) said, “My favorite scene is being a party guest. The funniest is when Madeline drops the Nutcracker head.”

Natalie Symons (Clara) said, “It was fun to play Clara in The Nutcracker. My favorite scene was the party scene with my friends!” Thank you Wings of Eagles for bringing the Nutcracker to life in Lake County, the audience for your participation in being part of the Nutcracker, and to Hanna Searls for making ballet accessible for students and guests alike!

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