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Published: Sunday, 12/4/2005

Sparkling tradition: Toledo Ballet gears up for 'The Nutcracker'

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC
Lucy Messervy, front, and Ariel Warrick glide gracefully through the air in a scene from <i>The Nutcracker</i>. Lucy Messervy, front, and Ariel Warrick glide gracefully through the air in a scene from <i>The Nutcracker</i>.
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The energetic and forever youthful Marie Bollinger Vogt, founder of the Toledo Ballet, has a simple credo for artistic success:

Build on the past and project towards the future, said the grand dame of Toledo dance.

Sixty-five years ago she began building the future when she staged Toledo s first performance of The Nutcracker. Though this time around her role is small, Vogt is back again on the dance scene. For the first time since her retirement in 1994, her choreography will be included in Toledo Ballet s annual production of The Nutcracker.

It s just a cameo and I have very much retired from my old role, but it was very sweet of [stage director] Soili Arvola and the Toledo Ballet board to ask me, she said.

Vogt contributes a scene during the Chinese dance that includes the return of Hoong Loong, a 42-foot dancing dragon that years ago she commissioned for Toledo Ballet.

The legend says that the dragon is fascinated by the moon and wants to eat it up. The dragon has a huge head and requires six people to maneuver. We have acrobats and dancers to handle it. The whole scene only lasts about 90 seconds, so you have to be careful not to blink, said Vogt.

Toledo Ballet presents Tchaikovsky s The Nutcracker Saturday and Sunday at the Stranahan Theater. The production features dancers Soili Arvola and interim Toledo Ballet School director Arkadiy Orohovsky. Choreography is by Leo Ahonen, Arvola s husband.

Heather Iler, now a Toledo Ballet instructor who will be dancing the roles of the Snow Queen and the Arabian, remembers Hoong Loong from the mid-1980s.

I was the girl who taunted the dragon. I got to carry the moon, said Iler.

Now things have come full circle. My 7-year-old daughter Madison plays the Chinese princess in the mini-parade. My husband (Nik Zisk) is helping to carry the dragon.

Iler, who left Toledo Ballet at age 16 to move to New York and work with Mikhail Baryshnikov, returned to teach with Toledo Ballet this fall.

It s fabulous to be back with Toledo Ballet. I have really reconnected with people I haven t seen in a lot of years, with the ballet family, she said.

She also loves the idea of helping to continue Vogt s heritage.

When you think about it, a dance student will work with her teacher 15 to 20 hours a week for years. They watch you and guide you from childhood to adulthood. That figure becomes an incredibly strong role model in a very positive sense. That s what Mrs. Vogt is to me. I think of her as a matriarch, said Iler.

Performing in this year's production of <i>The Nutcracker</i> are Nik Zisk, his wife, Heather Iler, and their daughter, Madison, 7. Performing in this year's production of <i>The Nutcracker</i> are Nik Zisk, his wife, Heather Iler, and their daughter, Madison, 7.
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It s been wonderful to see Mrs. Vogt involved again. Everything that she corrects in rehearsal I can now understand why and it all comes back to me in a second of the time when I was a child. Being involved like this is a wonderful way of coming full circle, she said.

Monday Musicale sponsored Vogt in her first Nutcracker performance. Presented in the Toledo Museum of Art, the brief production included just 12 dancers performing selections from the ballet s second act. The full score was not yet available in America, but little matter: Vogt said that at the time neither she nor the dancers had the necessary experience to mount more than a few scenes.

Staging was very basic, recalls Vogt. She wanted red, white, and blue lighting, but had to settle for a rather unappealing combination of orange, white, and blue. And the lights were either on or off; there were no dimmer switches.

The first performance with live orchestra took place in 1949 when dancers and musicians moved onto the Peristyle stage. The various forces were divided by a blue screen, which meant that conductor Wolfgang Stresemann needed to perch himself on a ladder in order to see both dancers and orchestra.

We didn t like having to dance in such a little space, but heck, it was a first performance at the Peristyle. That was plenty exciting. In later years we performed at the Rivoli and Paramount theaters, in school and church auditoriums, in and out of town, said Vogt.

Those events were hugely popular. In 1956, more than 1,200 people were turned away from a sold-out Peristyle performance. The next season, even the 3,000-seat Paramount Theatre proved insufficient.

Her credits Vogt for Toledo s enduring love for this most gentle of ballets.

Mrs. Vogt always provided a safe environment, right from when you started as a child, she said.

In The Nutcracker most children start as a mouse. Who could do that in school and feel safe? But in the family of the ballet you can get in line with that dream world of make believe and live in it. That was one of Mrs. Vogt s gifts. She had a way of letting you see into that dream world. That s a real treasure.

There is something very personal about watching someone dance. In class you have to show parts of your personality that perhaps other people don t see, or only briefly when you are on stage. That s why we have had 65 years of Nutcracker in Toledo. Even if the public gets just a glimpse of that world, they are carried away for the 2 hours, she said.

As for Vogt, she says that it s enough just to be back working with dancers, even in her limited role.

I love the children. I just want to kiss them and hug them and own them, she said. They are adorable and are working so hard. It s so exciting to see how these young dancers have grown with the choreography.

And for Vogt, growth is what dancing is all about.

Dance, whenever it s being taught well and sincerely, opens a window so that life takes on greater dimension, she said. It s the ultimate art for me.

Toledo Ballet presents The Nutcracker at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Stranahan Theater. Tickets range from $12 to $42. Information: 419-381-8851. A family brunch will be held Sunday from 11:30 until 1 p.m. Call 419-471-0049 for reservations.

Contact Steven Cornelius at: scornelius@theblade.com or 419-724-6152.



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