For the past 21 years, the Triangle Youth Ballet in Chapel Hill, North Carolina has staged the Nutcracker. With its own orchestra and original choreography customized for the young cast of dancers between the ages of 8 and 18, the 123 year old ballet takes on a whole new life.
I watched two performances this past week-end, both held at the majestic Carolina Theatre in Durham, North Carolina. Opened in 1926, this meticulously renovated venue in the Beaux Arts style, offers a spectacular setting for a ballet as magnificent as the Nutcracker.
There was a palpable excitement as I approached the brightly lit entrance to the Carolina. Visitors lingered in the walkway and lobby for this "opening night." (Chapel Hill High School was the setting for last week's performance, but dancing in the venerated Carolina must bring a special thrill to the cast and their families.)
A large table filled with nutcrackers of all shapes was set up in the lobby; nearby a beautifully costumed volunteer gave directional assistance and greeted visitors. Turns out she was the wife of the orchestra conductor. And speaking of orchestras, the Triangle Youth Ballet is indeed fortunate to have its own orchestra, the Tchaikovsky Virtuosi, conducted by Andrew McAfee.
Watching the performance from backstage gave me a unique opportunity to talk with the dancers. Among my favorites were the Angels, the youngest members of the cast. One of them, Camilla Carrington, memorized all the dances in case a replacement was needed. An eight year old, she could be seen in the hallway limbering up or playing games with other angels.
I interviewed the group, asking them their favorite part about being angels ("the music, "walking in the haze", "being told we're beautiful!")
The cast showed remarkable skill and poise on the stage. Rehearsals start in August and double up as performance time years. The person behind the magic is ballet school founder and director, Lauren Lorentz de Haas, who has been teaching dance for 35 years.
This Nutcracker has become a new tradition at our house during the holiday season.