Young hopefuls audition for The Nutcracker

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 59 views 

Sounds of The Nutcracker filled the air on Saturday (Sept. 15) as dozens of young hopefuls auditioned for a part in the classic holiday ballet. Hosted by Western Arkansas Ballet, the company held tryouts at its studio for boys and girls as young as six for the 27th annual production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

A Christmas tradition in the River Valley, The Nutcracker performance is one of the highlights of the holiday season. Each year, audiences fill the auditorium to witness the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Cavalier and the Nutcracker Prince.

Auditions were held throughout the day, with dancers being divided up into age and gender categories. Girls ages six to eight, boys ages six to eight, boys ages 10 to 12, girls ages nine to twelve and girls ages 11 and up, each took their turn in front of the judges. Although the majority of the roles are reserved for young girls, a number of parts are for young boys and adults.

To be eligible for auditions, dancers must be at least six years old and preferably have at least two years of prior dance or gymnastic experience.

The ballet is choreographed entirely by Melissa Schoenfeld, executive artistic director for WAB. No stranger to The Nutcracker, Schoenfeld has been involved with the performance for the last 25 years as part of Western Arkansas Ballet.

During auditions, Schoenfeld instructed dancers on their steps and demonstrated how the dance would coordinate with the music. Participants are evaluated on a number of criteria including how well they take instruction and how quickly they pick up on choreography.

“We don’t expect anyone to perfect in auditions, but we watch to see how well they pick up the steps,” said Elizabeth Gabbard, WABC Administrator. “We also keep an eye on how well they pay attention when given instruction.”

Gabbard also cited enthusiasm as one of the most important qualities they look for during tryouts.

“We really want both our cast and our audience to enjoy the performance and a big factor in that is how much of a desire the dancers have to be a part of the show. If they really want it, it shows and makes for a better performance,” she said.

Dancers from the WAB Company served as special assistants during auditions. WAB Company is a group of students who have auditioned for the most elite group of dancers. All are 11 years of age or older and have at least three years of classical ballet training. The group is a pre-professional company that trains dancers to continue dancing after high school if they so desire. Company members helped younger dancers learn their steps, cued music and demonstrated moves for those auditioning.

In addition to the more than 100 local performers, professional artists are also brought in each year for the event. Seasoned ballerinas from around the country have participated in the Fort Smith production over the years, giving hundreds of young artists the opportunity to dance with some of the most respected names in the business.

Over the next several months, those selected will spend many hours practicing their steps and rehearsing with the entire cast. Volunteers from throughout the community will also step in to help with all aspects of the production including costumes, make-up and ticket sells.

This year’s performances will be Saturday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 9 at 2:30 p.m. It will be held at the Arkansas Best Corporation Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Smith. Tickets will go on sale the Monday after Thanksgiving.