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It Takes a Sugar Plum Village

Students and professional dancers work side by side in Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s annual Nutcracker.

Every May, when most thoughts are trained on summer, Ballet Theatre of Maryland and its older students are already thinking about Nutcracker auditions. BTM, Maryland’s premier professional ballet company, pours months of preparation into its annual Nutcracker performance. What makes this production distinctive is the sheer number of children who perform—this year, 52 students ranging from ages 6 to 18 have rehearsed with the company since September so that the professionals and kids can work seamlessly together on stage. What does it take to be one of these kids?

Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s older students start rehearsing over the summer. Dianna Cuatto, Artistic Director, likes to teach the steps and spacing to the kids before she brings in her professional dancers. The opening party scene and the fight scene between the mice and soldiers are visual spectacles for the sheer number of children and adults on stage all moving according to precise choreography.

Early in September, the youngest dancers can audition for smaller roles, including princesses, fairy princesses, cavaliers, and cookies. Rehearsals with the company members begin by mid-September and these rehearsals are scheduled for every weekend. Older students can rehearse up to 12 hours a week and the youngest kids just a few hours before going to the theatre in December for technical and dress rehearsals.

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Costume fittings also take place in September. Old mouse costumes are aired and stitched up and for a few lucky princesses, new costumes are brought in to refresh supplies. Parents learn how to style dancers’ hair, and get stage makeup tips like how to draw the perfect mouse whiskers. They also commit to volunteering back stage or in the front of house.

After rehearsals throughout October and November and a well-earned break for Thanksgiving, it’s all systems go! Dress rehearsals for up to 4 different casts give kids and professionals the opportunity to dance different roles and even the youngest dancers can be in the theatre until 10 at night. It all sounds exhausting in amongst the holiday rush but if ask any of them if they would rather be doing something else and the answer is “No!” It’s a long Nutcracker season for these kids (and their parents), but their eyes light up when they talk about it, because they are so excited to share what they love with the public and to bring a timeless tradition to life year after year.

Trent David, 10, and his sister, Parker, 7, are local kids who auditioned for the first time this year. Trent just went to the audition to keep his sister company and ended up with three roles!
Trent says he likes that Dianna Cuatto, BTM’s artistic director, works with the children herself and that his role as a cookie strengthens his core and his arms!

Trent and Parker’s family has made a trip to the Nutcracker a family tradition for years. They can hardly believe that this year they actually get to be in it. Keep your eye out for Trent as the young cavalier escorting Clara into the land of sweets, and for Parker—the littlest of the children—beating the complicated rhythm of the Chinese Dance with sticks.

The Ballet Theatre of Maryland kicks off its Nutcracker performances December 6 and 13 with two Thursday morning Mini-Shows—performances especially staged for school groups and senior centers held at Maryland Hall For Creative Arts. At only $10 a ticket, the goal is to introduce Ballet to young children from as many elementary schools in the area as possible. Saturday and Sunday performances (December 8–9; 15–16) bring patrons flooding in to see the full-length ballet. Sunday Matinee goers are even invited to a Sugar Plum party with holiday treats, crafts, a holiday sing-along and a visit with Santa. For more information about the ballet and to buy tickets, visit balletmaryland.org. 

Chesapeake Family Life will be giving away tickets to every performance for the 2018 show. Click here to enter!

—Katrina Atsinger


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