Despite COVID-19 challenges, local dancers to perform ‘The Nutcracker’


The Dance Studio Network

This design, inspired by pop artist Andy Warhol, is the logo for the performance this year. The multi-colored boxes are intended to represent a Zoom call, along with the diverse audience that the dancers will be able to perform to with the show being pre-recorded. “The Nutcracker” will be recorded this weekend starting Dec. 4.

With the impact of COVID-19, dance students around the world, unable to rehearse in the studio, have resorted to training at home in their kitchens and living rooms, using chairs for ballet barres, and the now popular communication platform — Zoom — to take classes from instructors.  In August of this year, local studios reopened, following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control for reduced class sizes, and for older dancers to wear masks at all times, which presented unique challenges to all.

Junior Caitlyn Richey and senior Ainsley Rose after one of their performances of “The Nutcracker” last year. Among other roles, Richey was the Lead Mirliton, and Rose was the Snow Queen.

Despite these safety changes, the ballet students of the Dance Studio Network were worried about the threat of the annual production of “The Nutcracker” being canceled. To their relief, auditions were held in August, and rehearsals were soon in full swing. However, in adjustment to the COVID-19 safety requirements, the performance will release as a pre-recorded ballet for viewers.

A Christmas tradition for families and people of all ages, “The Nutcracker” ballet takes audience members on a journey through young Clara’s dream on Christmas Eve. As she and her Nutcracker Prince enter an enchanted winter wonderland, they are greeted by the Snow Queen and her snowflakes, who then escort them to the Land of Sweets where they encounter the Sugar Plum Fairy and other magical characters. Audience members are met by colorful costumes, timeless music, and well-established choreography. 

This year, the audition process ran like years past except for one detail — masks. A seemingly insignificant addition to the process, masks have produced a new difficulty for dancers.

Caitlyn and Lauren Richey smile through their masks on audition day with three other elementary students from Prosper ISD — Kendra Evanson, Taeya Corbridge and Beth Sorensen who will also be performing in The Nutcracker.

“For something as mentally challenging as ballet, adding an additional obstacle (like a mask) can distract from focusing on technique,” senior Ainsley Rose said. “It may seem insignificant, but wearing a mask can take mental focus away from applying corrections. It can also get super challenging after running an intense dance like the Snow Scene, to feel like you can catch your breath.”

The masks also made the “crucial element” of connecting with the judges and the audience harder. “With half of the face concealed,” Rose said. “It’s so much harder to truly perform and emote, which is the most important part of ballet.”

For the past three months, rehearsals have been in progress, and the dancers said their anticipation and excitement are growing as the video-recording date approaches. Seamstresses busy themselves among the costumes, and directors and dancers make technical perfection and performance a priority.

At dress rehearsal, junior Caitlyn Richey bends over to adjust her pointe shoes before running through her solo in front of the directors.

Several Prosper elementary and middle school students, as well as high school students Ainsley Rose, Caitlyn Richey, Lauren Richey and Kiera Parks will perform in the Dance Studio Network’s 2020 production of “The Nutcracker.”

Rose will perform the roles of Snowflake, Flower, Mirliton, and Sugarplum Fairy. Caitlyn Richey will dance as the Snow Queen as well as Flower and Mirliton. Lauren Richey will perform as Spanish Chocolate and Arabian Coffee, and Parks will be a Snowflake, Flower, and Spanish Chocolate. Other Prosper students can be found in the party scene of the ballet as soldiers and angels.

“Even though we don’t get to have a live audience this year, I’m really grateful that we can continue the tradition,” freshman Talonette Lauren Richey said. “To have a venue that will let us film on their stage is an incredible blessing during these times.”

The annual “The Nutcracker” ballet will be performed by local dancers and, due to COVID-19, will be pre-recorded for the audience the weekend of Dec. 4-6.

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