Hundreds celebrate the holidays with ‘The Nutcracker’

story and photos by Brittany Ransom
bransom@thecitywire.com

The Western Arkansas Ballet presented the 28th annual production of "The Nutcracker" on Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 14-15) at the Arkansas Best Corporation Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith.

Hundreds came out to see the traditional holiday ballet throughout the weekend. The show opened on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and followed with a closing performance on Sunday afternoon.

Comprised of 120 dancers, The Nutcracker included 86 children and teens dancing the parts of peppermints, flowers, sprites, mice and many other classic Nutcracker roles. Dancers ranged in age from 6-18. The remaining cast included adults and boys for the party scene, as well as Western Arkansas Ballet's 24 company members.

This year's performance also featured three out-of-state guest  artists, including Phoenix-based dancers Antoinette Kilmek and Arion Tanabe in their respective roles as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier. Texas native Zeek Wright danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince, while WAB's own Audra Beneux of Fort Smith danced as Clara.

As always, the show was filled with beautiful costumes and choreography. Dancers performed to the iconic music of Peter Tchaikovsky in the ballet that has become synonymous with Christmas time.

Set in Nuremberg, Germany on a Christmas Eve night in the mid-1850s, "The Nutcracker" tells the story of Clara Stahlbaum, who discovers a magical scene of toys, mice and her Nutcracker doll coming to life before her very eyes. In her dream, she dances with the Nutcracker, who has transformed into a handsome prince, before he takes her on a journey through fairyland, where they encounter the Sugar Plum Fairy and her court.

Melissa Schoenfeld, WAB Executive Artistic Director, served as the main choreographer and director. A part of WAB for the past 26 years, she is proud of her dancers and the performance they put on each holiday season.

"Western Arkansas Ballet prides itself on the way we tell the story of Clara and her Prince through art of ballet with dancers from the River Valley area," said Schoenfeld.

Open auditions for the production were held in September. Cast members practiced for more than two months on a weekly basis in preparation for the live show.

For many, "The Nutcracker" is a family affair. The dance roster is comprised of numerous siblings, who often participate from year to year. Many moms and dads also do their part by serving as volunteers. More than 100 volunteers help make the production possible, with parents, Nutcracker alum and other WAB supporters assisting with everything from make-up to costumes.

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On Friday (Dec. 13), WAB hosted area third graders for a special condensed version of "The Nutcracker." The annual free performance is part of the organization's community outreach programming.

This year's production also included a special opportunity for young Nutcracker fans to meet one of the ballet's most beloved characters. The Sugarplum Fairy Tea was held on Saturday (Dec. 14) morning and gave fans the chance to have lunch and their photo taken with the beautiful Sugarplum.

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