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Published: Thursday, 12/11/2008

150 dancers to continue beloved Nutcracker tradition


In December across the country, Nutcracker mania rises along with hopes for a generous Santa. The phenomenon links tiny new dance companies venturing into the traditional holiday performance to venerable groups like the Toledo Ballet, which is in final rehearsals of its 68th production.

I call it, Nuts is us, quipped executive director Mari Davies last weekend between ferrying costumes up steps to the dressing rooms and moving portable ballet barres into a small studio in preparation. The night before, she confessed, I was mopping the floors.

The Franklin Park mall headquarters of the 70-year-old company was awash in tiny, bun-headed, leotard-clad girls through whom older dancers such as Eric Hillenbrand and Sam Lipps threaded their way en route to Studio A as they prepared for this weekend s Nutcracker presentation Saturday and Sunday.

Inside, Toledo Ballet instructor Carole Kauber had stepped in for an ailing Lisa Mayer Lang, artistic director who is again staging the TBA production with choreography by Gen Horiuchi of St. Louis.

After rehearsing bows a complex task considering the performer count is 150 and includes double casting of some of the tiny dancer roles Kauber called for a complete run-through.

Watching happily from the sidelines was Peter Douglas of the Douglas Co., which has underwritten a new wrinkle in this production: casting of six children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The idea arose last year, said Davies. We thought we d have two, but the demand was so great we re taking six dancers.

Appearing in pairs in the snow scene of one production each, the six guest dancers are Courtney Jones, an 11th grader at Start High School; Amanda Werstler, an 11th grader at Anthony Wayne High School; Colleen Kummer, a 9th grader at Notre Dame Academy; Haley Apgar, a preschooler at Little Miracles Montessori School; Mazie Kruczkowski, a 5th grader at Holland Elementary School, and Isabel Trahan, a 7th grader at Gateway Middle School, Maumee.

Also making their Toledo debut as Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince will be Miami City Ballet principals Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado.

Accompanied by the Toledo Symphony with Adron Ming conducting, the Toledo Ballet s Nutcracker will be presented at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Stranahan Theater. Tickets are $14-$45 at the Stranahan box office, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., 419-381-8851, or at www.ticketmaster.com.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.

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