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A new generation of Claras takes the stage

From left, Olivia Stroud, 15; Margaret Yang, 16; and Sarah Nguyen, 14; rehearse for their role as Clara in Hanneke Lohse's annual production of a holiday favorite, "The Nutcracker" ballet. There will be six performances at the Veterans' Memorial Theater, opening Friday, Nov. 25, and running through Sunday, Nov. 27. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | November 18, 2011 |

Check it out

What: “The Nutcracker” ballet, presented by Hanneke and Company

When: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26; and 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27

Where: Veterans’ Memorial Theater, 203 E. 14th St.

Tickets: $15 general, available at the Davis Art Center, 1919 F St., and at the door

By Myka Reinsch Sinclair

When Sarah Nguyen was 4 years old, she thrilled to wear a fancy green dress as a “party girl” in Hanneke and Company’s local production of “The Nutcracker” ballet.

“It looked just like Clara’s, and I felt so special,” she said during a rehearsal this week.

This year, 14-year-old Nguyen will be dancing the lead role of Clara herself for the first time, as will Olivia Stroud, 15, and Margaret Yang, 16, also Davis natives, in separate performances.

“The Nutcracker” — presented annually over Thanksgiving weekend by the Davis Art Center, art director Hanneke Lohse and her Hanneke and Company dancers — is a proud example of homegrown, performing arts talent in Davis.

Stunning, professional-level choreography, the traditional Tchaikovsky score, brilliantly colored costumes, impressive ballet technique and jubilant stage presence make for a delightfully charming entrée to the holiday season.

The dream of dancing the role of Clara is one that many little girls cherish from a young age. Of course it doesn’t come easily.

“At the performance they make it look easy, but all of the dancers put in so much time, effort and work in order to be able to do this so well,” said Tiffany Huynh, Sarah’s mother.

Indeed, Stroud, like many others, regularly devotes 25 hours a week to her dancing. And last year, Yang — who had been cast as Clara for the first time — had to relinquish the role due to a stress fracture brought on by her own drive to practice and perfect her dancing.

This year, Yang’s injury has healed and she will finally fulfill her dream.

Of course, “The Nutcracker” is not just about Clara. Lohse loves to recount the story about the year she invited her students to sign up for the role they wanted.

“Everyone chose Clara,” Lohse said, “and I told them: that is fine, you can all be Clara, but I am going to have to cancel the show, because we have no party children, no mice, no soldiers and no flowers.”

Fortunately, the show went on when the dancers came to appreciate how important each role is to the overall story and spectacle.

“The silly buffoons are so much fun, because we get to be creative and show our personalities,” said one dancer.

“The Russian variation is my favorite,” Stroud said, “because there is such joyous energy all the way through.”

Some of the roles are also filled by Lohse’s adult dancers.

“What makes Hanneke such an amazing teacher is that she meets people where they are at and works with them to develop their skill and strength, no matter their age, body type or experience,” said Ania Mieszkowska, who will dance the roles of Drosselmeyer and Snow.

“I have some incredible adult dancers who work so hard and are absolutely beautiful,” Lohse said. “I am so proud of what everyone can do.”

As costuming got under way last week, the three new Claras were presented with a sparkly new costume for Act II, alongside the slightly frayed one worn for many past performances, and given the choice of which to wear.

“I definitely want the old one!” Yang exclaimed. “This is the one that I watched the past Claras dance in year after year. It has luck; it has a history.”

Six performances will be presented at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater, 203 E. 14th St., over the Thanksgiving weekend. Curtain times are at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26; and 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27.

Tickets are $15 general, available at the Davis Art Center, 1919 F St., and at the door.

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