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'The Nutcracker' is a Toledo tradition

Ballet rings in the holiday season at the Valentine

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    Zack Grubbs and Sarah Hairston dance with The Ballet Theater of Toledo in a 2010 performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Valentine Theatre.

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    "The Nutcracker" ballet is a Toledo holiday tradition.

    The Blade
    Buy This Image


"The Nutcracker" ballet is a Toledo holiday tradition.

The Blade
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Assemble dancers in fanciful costumes, conjure a charming fairy tale, sprinkle in some magic, season with beautiful music, and you have the recipe for a holiday tradition which never seems to grow old: The Nutcracker.

Somehow, the Tchaikovsky score sounds as brilliant each successive year as it did on first hearing.

The Nutcracker, like any great dance opus, is a celebration of transformation, onstage as well as in the audience.

Clara -- no matter who portrays her -- is ever the dainty ingenue. Trees burgeon before our eyes. Bratty brothers, mice, and rats are, for one night only, adorable. Snowflakes and flowers come to life in delicate choreography.

Perhaps most delicious of all is the suspension of reality the show facilitates during its two-hour window. Shut out are worldly cares. One certainty is shared: No matter how often we see The Nutcracker, each viewing brings surprise and delight.

Dancers trace their artistic progress through the roles they win in auditions for The Nutcracker. Most move up and move on. But sometimes they have the joy of returning to their first company and tackling new and more demanding roles.

So it is this year in several of the area productions, the earliest of which starts next weekend, right after Thanksgiving.

Ballet Theatre of Toledo performances are set for 7 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Valentine Theatre. A performance for special-needs people and the elderly will begin at 2 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $18-$38 at 419-861-0895 or at the Valentine Theatre. Discounts are available for veterans and their families for the Friday evening and Saturday shows.

Ballet Theatre of Toledo will reprise its production at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, Van Wert, Ohio.


Zack Grubbs and Sarah Hairston dance with The Ballet Theater of Toledo in a 2010 performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Valentine Theatre.

The Blade
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Returning this year to solo with her first company will be Lauren Tenney, 23, an alumna of Ballet Theatre of Toledo and now a principal dancer with the Lexington Ballet.

Tenney will portray the Snow Queen. Her partner will be Evan Pitts, a Lexington colleague.

"To come back as a principal, this is what our business is really about," said Nigel Burgoine, BTT founder and artistic director, recently. "It is the progression we want, to see our dancers travel the world and dance, then come back to us."

Tenney says she fell in love with dance at age 4, attending a Nutcracker performance in Michigan. She came to Burgoine at age 8 and progressed through many of the traditional Nutcracker roles, plus other original productions.

After study in Connecticut, New York, and Europe, Tenney made her debut as Sugar Plum Fairy with the Metropolitan Ballet of Topeka a few years ago.

Other soloists for this weekend's performances will be Cincinnati Ballet principals Sarah Hairston and Zack Grubbs, as Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince. Former Cincinnati Ballet dancer Jay Goodlett, who has performed the Prince role in Toledo for some years, will return, but this year for the Russian dance.

Also rejoining the company in character roles will be Rich Helldobbler, Ernst Hillenbrand, and Anne Marie Getz. Clara will be portrayed by Havin-Lynn Hoobler and Regan Simon, alternating shows; Harrison McClintock will be Fritz for all shows.

Oh, and thanks to a new affiliation between BTT and the Toledo Mud Hens, the summertime fave, mascot Mudonna, will make her dance debut with the company.

Ohio Northern University music faculty member Lloyd Butler will conduct the Ballet Theatre of Toledo Orchestra, and singers from Masterworks Chorale, another longtime collaborator with BTT, will perform in the Snow scene.

North of Toledo, at the River Raisin Ballet Company in Monroe, Katrina Snyder will return to her dance alma mater to portray the Sugar Plum Fairy, with Alex Hlavaty as her Cavalier.

Snyder studied with RRBC founder and artistic director Gail Choate-Pettit, and is now studying dance and electrical engineering at Western Michigan University. She holds an Enrico Cecchetti Diploma and has been part of the Joffrey Ballet Trainee program.

Hlavaty, an award-winning performer, also is a dance major at WMU. Performances are set for 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 3 and 3 p.m. Dec. 4 in the restored historic theater, the River Raisin Centre for the Arts, 114 South Monroe St. Tickets are $10-$18 at 734-242-7722, the arts center box office, or

This will be the 71st production of TheNutcracker for the Toledo Ballet, a company founded by Marie Bollinger Vogt, and one of the first to bring the production to an American audience.

Despite its longevity, this production resists monotony because something is always changing: Last year the Toledo Ballet introduced a new second act backdrop by Cincinnati set designer Thomas Umfrid, plus revamped lighting and costumes.

Professional soloists and community notables are plugged into key roles, the better to add the element of surprise for the audience.

Last year, for example, Dick Anderson, head of the big interstate farm product and retail company The Andersons and a major philanthropist, turned up for one 2010 performance as Mother Ginger, complete with makeup, a curly wig, and the mammoth, mobile dress structure under which hide tiny tumblers called Ginger Snaps.

"It's always great fun to determine who to ask to play this hilarious role because there are so many members of our community deserving of it," said Mari Davies, executive director of the venerable ballet.

"They bring such humor and joy to that stage, and there's nothing like hearing the roars come from the audience when they see these prominent citizens roll out on stage in full costume, literally larger than life."

This year's celeb Mother Ginger will be Joseph H. Zerbey, IV, president-general manager of The Blade and an active member of the area's arts and altruism circles.

"I have always looked up to Dick Anderson," Mr. Zerbey said. "He was a Mother Ginger and now I can wear the same dress. Seriously, to be part of this great company, to help the Toledo Ballet in any way, is a great honor." He will appear in the 7 p.m. Dec. 10 production; radio personality Rick Woodell from WRVF-FM 101.5, The River, will cover the role in the other performances.

Professional dancers from the Miami Ballet were to return for their third year in the production but their schedules changed at the last minute so Olga Pavlova and Andre Jouravlev from the Houston Ballet will portray Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Rebekah Paul will take the role of Clara and Sam Lips, a company member studying at the University of Michigan, will be the Nutcracker Prince.

Performances this year are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 10 and 2 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Stranahan Theater. Tickets are $17-$47 at the theater box office, 419-381-8851 or TicketMaster.

Contact Sally Vallongo at

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