Ask a participant in the “Davis Children’s Nutcracker” what his or her favorite part of the experience is, and odds are pretty good the answer will be, “my leaders.”
Because as fun as performing in the annual rite of passage is for Davis children, from the music to the dancing to the costumes, it’s often the interaction with the teenagers who teach them everything that leaves the deepest impact of all.
For years afterward, in fact, children will spot their leaders around town, working at Nugget, teaching a swim lesson, passing them on a sidewalk downtown, and respond with a shriek of joy: “That’s my ‘Nutcracker’ leader!”
It’s no wonder, then, that many of these children grow up to be leaders themselves, sharing their love for the “Nutcracker” year after year with the kids who follow in their footsteps. And they do so with a sense of obligation.
“My leaders always made it so fun,” says Davis High senior Emma Hunter, “so I always want to do the same.”
Hunter has been a leader for five years now, following six years spent in the cast itself. Cast members — who number 250 — are all between the ages of six and 12, and after that become eligible to be leaders.
This year, Hunter and junior Katya Christian are working with the two dance leads in the “Nutcracker,” both choreographing and teaching the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Forest Fairy their respective dances.
For Hunter, who was herself the Sugar Plum Fairy back in 2005, there is a seamlessness about the process of rehearsing onstage with this year’s version — Leila Roberts — and working through the dance movements.
And because both Hunter and Christian have been taking dance lessons since they were little, “we can actually put our knowledge of dance to use,” Christian said.
“It’s a great creative outlet,” Hunter added.
They and their fellow leaders also bring an immense knowledge of “Nutcracker” lore to the job.
“Everyone has all the lines memorized,” Christian noted.
So when the Mouse King — James Hayakawa — was rehearsing his role onstage one afternoon last week, any of the leaders could step in at any time to rehearse with him, playing a mouse, a soldier or anything else, and always knowing exactly what to say and what to do.
Leaders Lindsay Brandt, Hannah Jolkovsky and John Greer have the task of preparing a dozen children for their lead roles in this year’s “Nutcracker.” They’re working with everyone from Clara and the Prince, to the Mouse King, Gnome Queen and assorted family members.
Since right after Thanksgiving break they’ve been at the Veterans’ Memorial Center nearly every day preparing their charges for their roles, helping Clara learn her lines, and coaching the Mouse King and the Prince through their swordplay.
This year’s main leads are:
Clara: Lilja Jelks
Nutcracker Prince: Cooper Hosley
Mouse King: James Hayakawa
Forest Fairy: Abby Sutcliffe
Sugar Plum Fairy: Leila Roberts
The complexity of teaching a ballet dance has been particularly time-consuming for the dance leaders.
“We’re here the most of any of the leaders,” Christian noted.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love everything about it,” Hunter said.
This is the 35th year of the “Davis Children’s Nutcracker” and director Ann Smalley’s 21st year at the helm. Once again she has about 40 volunteers and leaders assisting.
As it has nearly every year, the “Nutcracker” sold out the day tickets went on sale to the public. In fact, the public in general rarely gets a chance to buy tickets. Families of participants have the opporunity to purchase six tickets in advance and many of them then line up at the city’s Community Services Department in the early morning hours the day the remaining tickets go on sale. Parents have been known to line up two or more hours before the office opens — usually in the cold, sometimes in the rain — to buy more tickets.
People’s plans do change, though, and tickets often become available for resale. Check the bulletin board in the lobby of the Veterans’ Memorial Center for updates. The “Davis Children’s Nutcracker” opens Wednesday and continues through Sunday.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8051.