Young performers star in Nutcracker at Bass Hall, Will Rogers

Resi Cooper, 11, who plays Clara in “The Nutcracker,” participates in a dress rehearsal for Avant Chamber Ballet’s performance at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday.

Resi Cooper, 11, who plays Clara in “The Nutcracker,” participates in a dress rehearsal for Avant Chamber Ballet’s performance at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday.

ctorres@star-telegram.com

Resi Cooper flitted across the stage, tall and poised under bright lights, as she rehearsed for the lead role in the classic Christmas ballet “The Nutcracker” on Tuesday night.

Just short of a week from Christmas Day, she and her peers were running through a story line involving a nutcracker-versus-rat army battle and a magical land known as the Kingdom of Sweets that soon would be performed in front of a crowd of spectators at Will Rogers Memorial Center.

In a ballet that evokes childhood themes, showcasing performers who are children themselves is only fitting. Cooper, age 11, is one of over 100 student dancers performing in “The Nutcracker” across Fort Worth this holiday season against the backdrop of Christmas scenery and timeless classical music. The upcoming performances Friday and Saturday at Will Rogers include about 50 children, while ongoing performances at Bass Performance Hall include about 100 children who are split into two casts, according to the presenting theater companies based in Dallas and Fort Worth. Student dancers in these productions are as young as 5 years old and perform specific roles alongside professionals.

Resi Cooper, 11, who plays Clara in “The Nutcracker,” participates in a dress rehearsal for Avant Chamber Ballet’s performance at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.
Resi Cooper, 11, who plays Clara in “The Nutcracker,” participates in a dress rehearsal for Avant Chamber Ballet’s performance at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. Chris Torres ctorres@star-telegram.com

“We have these amazing professional dancers, but having such talented, young performers on stage with them really brings — especially our young audiences — kind of into the magic of “The Nutcracker” … It’s in American dancers’ DNA,” said Katie Puder, artistic director for Avant Chamber Ballet, which is hosting the shows at Will Rogers.

For Cooper, this is her second year being part of “The Nutcracker,” and her first year appearing as Clara, a young girl who is gifted a wooden nutcracker that is brought to life by magic and joins her on an eventful journey. She also performed at the Moody Performance Hall in Dallas earlier this month as one of the children at a Christmas party that happens at the beginning of the ballet.

Tuesday’s rehearsal was a glimpse of Cooper’s general ballet schedule, which typically consists of 20 hours of practice across five to six days a week, she said.

Dancers from Avant Chamber Ballet participate in a dress rehearsal for their performance of “The Nutcracker” at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday.
Dancers from Avant Chamber Ballet participate in a dress rehearsal for their performance of “The Nutcracker” at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday. Chris Torres ctorres@star-telegram.com

“I like precision, and so I enjoy ballet because it’s very precise,” Cooper said. “I think I got into it because I enjoy moving around and expressing myself.”

Elizabeth Seiver, 13, another dancer in the Will Rogers production, enjoys the beauty of ballet and how it can tell a story, she said. Her role is a Polichinelle, a clown that emerges from her mother’s huge hoop skirt to dance. But her favorite part of the show is the snow scene.

“They’re traveling through the land of snow to the land of sweets, and so there’s all those snowflakes dancing around, and they meet the Snow Queen. It’s really pretty,” she said.

Young dancers perform in “The Nutcracker” at Bass Performance Hall in 2022.
Young dancers perform in “The Nutcracker” at Bass Performance Hall in 2022. Amitava Sarkar Texas Ballet Theater

As Seiver and Cooper help keep the gears of the production churning at Will Rogers this week, two other student performers who are their same ages have been showcasing their own version of “The Nutcracker” about 10 minutes away at Bass Performance Hall downtown. The production presented by Texas Ballet Theater includes siblings Ashlyn and Ian Johnson, ages 13 and 11, who perform as an angel and a party boy. They both enjoy the battle scene when the Nutcracker and his soldiers face off against the Rat King and his army, with the Nutcracker coming out victorious.

“I think it’s very well choreographed, I’d say. The rats have a lot of fun,” Ashlyn said.

Ian admires how high the soldiers can jump — “They just float” he said.

Student dancers perform as angels in “The Nutcracker” at Bass Performance Hall in 2022.
Student dancers perform as angels in “The Nutcracker” at Bass Performance Hall in 2022. Amitava Sarka Texas Ballet Theater

Their mother, Ami Johnson, considers themselves “The Nutcracker family,” as it’s become a tradition for Ashlyn and Ian to be performing annually, she said. To her, the story of “The Nutcracker” revolves around family in general.

“If I were to describe ‘The Nutcracker,’ I would say it’s about the complexities of a family party and a family gathering during the holidays. And a little girl’s dream,” Ami Johnson said.

Leticia Oliveira, principal at Texas Ballet Theater School’s Fort Worth campus, highlighted how the ballet’s brand as a Christmas tradition is part of its appeal to families. Oliveira, who has been principal for six years and was a dancer with Texas Ballet Theater for 10 years prior to that, remembers “The Nutcracker” had inspired her to start ballet in the first place.

Dancers from Avant Chamber Ballet participate in a dress rehearsal for their performance of “The Nutcracker” at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday.
Dancers from Avant Chamber Ballet participate in a dress rehearsal for their performance of “The Nutcracker” at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday. Chris Torres ctorres@star-telegram.com

“I remember my motivation was thinking about all those kids who would be sitting in the audience that maybe would be touched by the art form in some way, and then decide to dance,” Oliveira said of her previous performances.

At Wednesday night’s show at Bass Performance Hall, a toddler imitated dancers on stage, twirling and hopping in the middle of the aisle between seats.

Avant Chamber Ballet’s performances of “The Nutcracker” with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will be at 7 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday at Will Rogers Memorial Center. The Texas Ballet Theater’s remaining performances are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. today, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and a final performance at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Bass Performance Hall.

Katie Puder, the artistic director at Avant Chamber Ballet, speaks with her dancers during a dress rehearsal for their performance of “The Nutcracker” at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday.
Katie Puder, the artistic director at Avant Chamber Ballet, speaks with her dancers during a dress rehearsal for their performance of “The Nutcracker” at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth on Tuesday. Chris Torres ctorres@star-telegram.com

This story was originally published December 21, 2023, 11:11 AM.

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Lina Ruiz covers early childhood education in Tarrant County and North Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A University of Florida graduate, she previously wrote about local government in South Florida for TCPalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers.

source: star-telegram

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