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Published: Wednesday, 11/29/2006

Nutcracker times 2; local productions offer twice the holiday fun

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The holiday season is upon us and what better way to celebrate all the festivities than the annual production of The Nutcracker?

This year for the first time ever, Toledoans can attend two sets of top-flight productions of Tchaikovsky s Christmas classic.

There s the Toledo Ballet Association s 66th production on Dec. 16 in the Stranahan Theatre. Performances will be at 2 and 7 p.m. Shows will also be presented at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 17.

And, there s the Ballet Theatre of Toledo s debut in two shows Saturday. Performances are at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. n the new Maumee Performing Arts Center.

Both Nutcrackers boast large casts of excited dancers, tiptoeing their way through dances as mice, snowflakes, ice crystals, Chinese acrobats, and lambs, among others.

We just want to give them an opportunity to perform on stage, says Arkadiy Orohovsky, artistic director of the Toledo Ballet. He actually added roles this year and is adapting traditional choreography by Maurice Petipas and George Balanchine to various skill levels.

Nigel Burgoine, artistic director of Ballet Theatre of Toledo will use his own choreography.

Both productions are over-the-top fanciful with huge Christmas trees, glittering props, live orchestras, and guest artists. People know the kind of shows I put on big and spectacular, Burgoine said.

We purchased the entire Nutcracker from the Cincinnati Ballet, noted Burgoine, who came to Toledo from that professional company in 1996. (Cincinnati this year is replacing its original sets and costumes with a custom-made production from Russia.)

Toledo Ballet s lavish production reflects nearly seven decades of design and building, for most of that time under the direction of founder and artistic director Marie Bollinger Vogt.

Both productions also will present guest soloists in featured roles.

Ballet Theatre soloists are Patricia Sundbeck and Jay Goodlett, both from the Cincinnati Ballet, will perform as Snow Queen and Snow Prince, then as Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince.

Ernst Hillenbrand will take the role of Herr Drosselmeyer, and John Dodson will conduct the Ballet Theatre of Toledo Orchestra.

Featured dancers include Ballet Theatre associate artistic director Anne Marie Getz; Hillary and Amy Sujkowski, Douglas Burkhart as Fritz, and Lauren Burns and Caitlin Riley, sharing the role of Clara.

Toledo Ballet s stars are Olga Pavlova and Yevgeni Anfinogenov, Russian-born husband and wife who dance with the Metropolitan Classical Ballet of Dallas. Featured dancers will include Orohovsky as the Nutcracker and Brianne Szymanski and Emily Fuller sharing the role of Clara.

Transformations

For both companies the past year has seen major changes in personnel and location.

Burgoine, who left the Toledo Ballet Association in June, 2005, after his contract was cancelled, quickly founded Ballet Theatre of Toledo with a group of some 100 parents who left TBA with him.

They moved into new headquarters, a freestanding former retail outlet on Corporate Drive in Holland in November, 2005. What impressed me is what the parents are willing to do, Burgoine said of the new space. It boasts two 50-foot-by-40-foot dance studios and a 20-foot-by-30-foot studio. On site are workrooms, offices, lounges, a large lobby, and a covered loading dock.

We re just starting, said Larry Gerken, president of the organization. With an annual budget of $200,000, the school has some 160 students.

Although a non-compete clause in Burgoine s contract with the Toledo Ballet forbade any local productions for 12 months, when the holidays rolled around last year, his fledgling company was ready to bring the Tchaikovsky classic to an audience.

Just not in Toledo.

Last year, we had a caravan of 75 cars driving to Batesville, Ind., to put on our first production, Burgoine said.

This year, his Ballet Theatre will perform in the new Maumee Performing Arts Center at Maumee High School, 1147 Saco Dr.

It s got a 52-foot proscenium, a sprung stage (a springy wood surface that is easier on dancer s feet) and state of the art sound and light, Burgoine says. And, on Dec. 10, Ballet Theatre of Toledo will do a performance of The Nutcracker with the Firelands Symphony in Norwalk, Ohio.

Meanwhile, the Toledo Ballet Association, with an annual budget of $500,000, moved into its new headquarters, a second story complex on the Westfield Shoppingtown at Franklin Park s south side, with direct access from the rooftop parking lot. Three spacious studios, offices, changing rooms, a lounge, and workroom are painted in vivid colors and bustle with the comings and goings of some 200 students.

Mari Davies, executive director since June, says she is particularly proud of the outreach programs the association has launched with grant monies, including sponsorships for talented children of low-income parents. As young children observed teacher Jeanie Bugert in a class, Davies recalls, I was stunned by how engaged the kids were.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com or 419-724-6101.



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