Under a shower of confetti snowflakes and behind a shimmering tinsel-covered sleigh, two girls in angelic white strode across the stage of the Stranahan Theater.
And for a few brightly lit moments yesterday afternoon, the enchanted world of Toledo Ballet's The Nutcracker gained a little more magic.
The two in their snowflake costumes, Colleen Kummer, 14, of West Toledo, and Isabel Trahan, 12, of Maumee, are among a group of six area girls who have joined the cast of this year's 68th production. They are making brief yet inspiring appearances in the final moments of the first act, starring in one of the nation's oldest productions of The Nutcracker.
The children, ages 5 to 17, are guests of the Toledo Ballet through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and all have battled life-threatening medical conditions.
Now a seventh grader at Gateway Middle School, Isabel was still a baby when she lost the use of both kidneys as a result of hemolytic-uremic syndrome. She survived by receiving a kidney from her mother, Christina Trahan.
For Colleen, a freshman at Notre Dame Academy, crisis came in the form of a malignant brain tumor called medulloblastoma, which had grown to the size of a tangerine and required immediate surgery two years ago.And appearing on stage today will be the young pig-tailed Haley Apgar of Sylvania, a preschooler who two years ago lost a kidney in a battle with a Wilms' Tumor, a rare form of cancer,
"These kids are so brave and what they've been through is mind-boggling, so to give them a few minutes of total fantasy - wow, it makes my day for sure," said Mari Davies, Toledo Ballet executive director.
For weeks, 5-year-old Haley has waited restlessly for her chance to take the stage in her new white snowflake costume and glittering silver crown. Her parents, grandparents, and school friends from Little Miracles Montessori are all expected in the audience this afternoon when she helps escort the giant wooden sleigh bearing Clara and the Nutcracker Prince.
"She's been telling everybody. She keeps asking if it's The Nutcracker day," said her proud mother, Holly Apgar. "She loves being on stage. That's what she keeps asking about, when is she going to be on stage."
Haley shares casting positions with the other five Make-A-Wish girls, who were set to go on in pairs starting with yesterday's afternoon and evening shows and continuing today for the 2 p.m. matinee.
The girls will walk behind the sleigh carrying plastic candles that they will "blow out" in the moment the stage lights darken and the curtain falls for intermission.
The girls will not be dancing in the ballet, and on the whole this has brought more relief than disappointment. "I told the children that they don't have to worry about whether they know how to dance," Ms. Davies said.
The other children are Courtney Jones, a junior at Start High School; Amanda Werstler, a junior at Anthony Wayne High School, and Mazie Kruczkowski, a fifth grader at Holland Elementary School.
Ms. Davies this fall came up with the idea to strike up a partnership with Make-A-Wish for this year's Nutcracker.
"Because we are entering our 70th anniversary celebration, I wanted to do something to show Toledo Ballet's appreciation to our larger community for supporting us," she said.
The northwest Ohio chapter of Make-A-Wish loved the idea and sent letters to its recent wish recipients to gauge their interest. The opportunity fit perfectly with the foundation's wish-granting mission, said Sarah Hooper, wish program coordinator.
"I sent it out on a Friday and by Monday my voice mailbox was full," Ms. Hooper said. "One of the moms actually called me crying."
Each child received a custom-made snowflake outfit and a pair of pink ballet slippers. The venture was underwritten by the Douglas Co. of Holland.
After hearing about the casting call, 17-year-old Amanda of Whitehouse had three words for her mother: "Call them now!"
A survivor of osteosarcoma, a malignant bone cancer, Amanda has a prosthetic titanium femur in her right leg that prohibits her from running, jumping, or partaking in any high-impact activity. That has been a tough sentence for Amanda, a tomboy who once rode dirt bikes in motocross races and bounced around in paintball shootouts.
Diagnosed at 14, Amanda's cancer has been in remission for more than two years. Getting this far was an accomplishment.
"There were days when she was so sick that the doctor said, 'I don't know, if she's not better in 24 hours, I don't know what we can do,'•" her mother, Cherie Werstler, said.
During rehearsal last week, Amanda shared that she was excited to be taking part in The Nutcracker, but still a little nervous: "I've never done anything on stage before."
Supporting her backstage was her mother, who also accompanied Amanda to a tattoo parlor this year where, along with grandmother Linda Balduf, they had the word "believe" tattooed onto their legs to celebrate another year without cancer.
Also backstage was young blond Mazie, who still struggles with the daily complications of cystic fibrosis.
Her mother, Stacie Krucz-kowski, explained how this weekend's performance has added significance for Mazie, who was supposed to see The Nutcracker last year with her grandmother but never did because her grandmother died.
"I'm just extremely excited that she gets to have this opportunity and that she gets to have this memory."
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