Admit it. They were gone.
Without the adorable little mice and rats, the graceful dancing flowers, the jealous kid brother Fritz, the dreamy Clara, the vaguely creepy Herr Drosselmeyer and — above all — the enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy, December 2020 just wasn’t the same.
But “The Nutcracker,”With its captivating music and colorful cast, it is back in grand fashionAfter a year of being off-stage, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic Shutdown.
Six performances of the classic seasonal ballet have been scheduled by Mankato Ballet Company, which will be performed at the Ted Paul Theatre at Minnesota State University from Dec. 9-12.
Eryn Michlitsch, the company’s artistic director, couldn’t be happier.
“We’re sure glad to be back to live performances this year,”She said that students had recorded a masked version of the video last year that was accessible for remote viewing, despite being separated from their peers.
“(‘The Nutcracker’) is always one of our biggest chances to share the art of dance, and many people make seeing it a holiday tradition,” Michlitsch said.
“With 120 dancers involved, there are a lot of parents, families and friends who want to see their dancers perform, but we hope the community will also come.”
Joining Michlitsch in preparing the company’s students for “The Nutcracker”Riley Thomas Weber was the ballet master, while Kelsey Chester was the assistant director and Sophia Sulzle was the rehearsal assistant. The studio teaches children as young as 3 years old, although they can be taught from as young as 8.
“We have a split cast, with about 60 dancers in any one show,” Michlitsch said.
To participate, they must be at least 18 years old and have a certain skill level. “The Nutcracker,”Michlitsch stated that some of the featured roles are double or triple cast to help with the dancing and to share the roles with the large pool qualified dancers.
“All of the lead roles are done by our performing company,” Michlitsch said. “When they achieve soloist level in the company, they are eligible to be considered for what are probably the three biggest roles — Sugar Plum Fairy, Dew Drop Fairy and the Snow Queen.
“We take a lot of things into consideration and we have understudies in case something were to happen, which is more important now than ever.”
Clara is a triple-cast role for 2021. Emma Choe (Kitlyn Landgraff), Isabel Carleton (Isabel Carleton) are all slated to shine in their respective shows.
“‘Clara’ is a coveted but lengthy role and it takes a lot of dancing and acting,” Michlitsch said. “We want Clara to look a bit younger so we usually cast dancers who are 13 to 15 years old.”
Benjamin Johnson, a former performer with the Milwaukee Ballet and Tampa Bay Ballet Theatre, will be dancing Herr Drosselmeyer’s part.
“Benjamin comes from the Twin Cities to teach one Saturday a month,” Michlitsch said. “He’s a wonderful teacher, choreographer and dancer.”
Cyrus Brave Heart, an alumnus of the company, will be the handsome Cavalier, partner at the grand Pas de Deux to Sugar Plum Fairy.
“Cyrus danced with us and graduated last year,” Michlitsch said. “He’s doing guest artist work, and it’s fun to have him because we know and love him.”
And a former Clara has matured into 2021’s Sugar Plum Fairy.
Emily Frutos Krueger is a Mankato East High School senior. She is also a seven-year company dancer and was en pointe in seventh grades.
“My first Nutcracker role was as a rag doll and being part of the young Arabian corps,”Krueger added that Clara was Clara’s goal from a young age.
“I loved being Clara; that was one of my favorite experiences, ever, and was my first big part with MBC.”
Krueger, a dedicated dancer who estimates she spends 20 hours a week in the dance studio on average, said she feels ready for the spotlight Sugar Plum Fairy.
“It’s a little more stressful, but it’s exciting stress,”Krueger stated. “The role is fun in itself. I get to dance to the Sugar Plum music and I wear a pink tutu and a crown.”
Krueger, a 12-year-old piano student, also plays flute in the East Band.
“Every Christmas for the past five years I’ve played the grand Pas de Deux music (on piano) and now I get to dance to it,”She said.
Krueger aspires to a career in dance administration and instructs as a student teacher to two MBC classes — a pre-ballet class for 5-year-olds and a pre-jazz class for 7-year-olds.
Krueger enjoyed sharing the news with her peers, learning that she was cast in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in a six week intensive summer program at Ballet Austin in Texas.
“Several of my dancing friends there were also cast as Sugar Plum at their studios so we’ve kept in contact about our experiences and how it’s going,”Krueger stated.
She is a living example of a truth Michlitsch claims: “The Nutcracker”It never gets old for audiences or dancers. And after a 35-year MBC run, it’s still going strong.
“The music is familiar — people might hear segments of it in commercials or while walking in the mall — and it puts you in that holiday setting,” Michlitsch said.
“And then getting to go on an adventure as the ballet progresses is fun. It’s always a little different because each dancer brings their own take to it, plus we update the costumes and choreography so there’s always something new and fresh.”
Michlitsch hopes MBC’s production of “Swan Lake,”Programming for March will also draw crowds.
“‘Swan Lake’ is a beautiful ballet, but I don’t know if anything will ever be as well attended as ‘The Nutcracker,’”She said. “There’s just something about ‘The Nutcracker.’”