The traditional meets the new in the 17th annual Ahwatukee Foothills Nutcracker Ballet next month.
Under the direction of Dance Studio 111 owner Kimberly Lewis, the one evening and two matinee performances Dec. 17 and 18 still feature the favorite dances and beloved storyline but are accentuated this year by many new costumes and choreography.
Among the new costumes is a new addition to the usual court of eight Queens: the Queen of Sweets as danced and played by Anna Alber, 14. Her role, besides dancing, is overseeing the tiny Bon Bons who emerge from Mrs. Gingers’ dress.
The Desert Vista High School freshman will wear a newly designed “sweets tutu” with a candy-cane striped bodice and white tutu skirt festooned with red, white and green lollypops.
In addition, four other cast Queens sport new tutus designed by Lewis. Each is hand-sewn and took eight to 12 weeks to complete.
“Once they arrive, I personally hand-glue each rhinestone on, and some of the tutus have 2,000 rhinestones,” said Lewis.
“The dancers know they have a tutu that has been ‘rhinestoned’ by Miss Kimberly because I always put a rhinestone heart on the inside of the tutu over the heart of the dancer,” wrote Lewis in her Oct. 29 entry of The Nut Life blog.
The Snow Queen, Arabian Queen and Butterfly Queen wear new professional tutus this year, as do the Snow Princesses, the core dancers of the Waltz of the Flowers dancers, the Spanish Dancers and the Dew Drops.
Also added this year are new Victorian dresses worn by the March Girls in the party scene. Each dress is designed and hand-sewn by DeAnn Nevision, whose daughter Ashley dances in the “Nutcracker” and whose husband Jon plays the role of Clara’s father while also serving as prop and set designer.
New dancers mean new dance arrangements and “Nutcracker” choreographer Jill Hammond has provided some.
“Actually, we try and make little changes every year,” said Hammond, who has been head choreographer for all of the Ahwatukee Foothills Ballet Nutcracker’s 17 years. She credits her family and husband Paul for their support.
“We have so many talented dancers that we can make the choreography a little more advanced as we go from year to year,” she said. “Some of the dancers, like Bella and Olivia Gregg, I’ve worked with for many years. They were just mice when we first worked together 10 years ago.”
Bella Gregg, 14, is this year’s Sugarplum Fairy, and sister Olivia, 16, is the Marzipan Queen this year.
Hammond also works with fellow choreographer Meghan Arena, whose 4-year-old daughter Leni is dancing in her third “Nutcracker.”
With the new costumes and dances comes the usual hard work, said Hammond. Ballerinas often practice the production 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekend for four months.
This year, Lewis is keeping fans apprised of the goings-on with her Nut Life blog at NutcrackerLife.com.
“I hope to make this a TV series next year,” said Lewis excitedly. “There’s so much that goes into the ‘Nutcracker’ production that I think people would really enjoy seeing the entire process on TV, and we need a dance show that’s positive.”
Positive and family-friendly mean a great deal to Lewis as annually she updates the stage settings and costumes to continually fascinate the audience, which continues to grow annually as word circulates about the performances in the Desert Vista High’s Fine Arts Theatre.
Another tradition appears to be the sell-out of the Saturday and Sunday afternoon matinees, with one of the reasons being the festive post-production festivities.
“Following both 2 p.m. performances, Clara takes the stage and leads the audience in singing ‘Jingle Bells’ as Santa arrives on the stage in his sleigh,” said Lewis. “Snow falls inside the theater, the live Christmas tree grows to the ceiling and Angels dance on clouds. All the cast members come out in costume to sign autographs and pose with theatre goers for photos.
“This is a great opportunity for the audience members to meet all the Queens, the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. We also invite them to sit on Clara’s throne with Clara in the land of Sweets for more photographs. It’s a magical family post-production tradition.”
As holiday music plays, audience members are also encouraged to come onstage for photos with Santa.
Tickets are available at Lewis’ Dance Studio 111 at 4910 E. Chandler Blvd., or at 480-706-6040. Tickets are sold at the Desert Vista High Theater box office one hour prior to each show, but traditionally the matinee performances are sold out weeks in advance.
“The ‘Nutcracker’ production is our gift to our community and their friends and family. It truly is a magical experience for all ages, and our dancers and stage crew and their parents work so hard to make it a memorable holiday treat,” said Lewis.