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Local dance company joins the Englert for annual performance of the Nutcracker

BY JUSTUS FLAIR | NOVEMBER 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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Toy figures execute perfect spins and turns among striking ballerinas, fulfilling children’s Christmas fantasies.

Children’s playthings coming to life is a dream many people may have had, but in The Nutcracker, this wish becomes reality as young Clara’s toy nutcracker sweeps her away to the Land of Sweets.

The Nutcracker has been performed in countless venues since the Kirov Ballet premièred the show in Russia in 1892.

The local production of The Nutcracker — a collaboration between the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., and the Nolte Academy, 1801 Second St., Coralville — will run at the Englert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and close at 1 p.m. Dec. 2. Tickets range from $14 to $24.

“Nolte Academy and the Englert have been collaborating on the Nutcracker for years now,” said Andre Perry, the Englert executive director. “The partnership came about because it made sense: presenting The Nutcracker in an historic venue in downtown just seems like a rewarding and fun partnership.”

Leslie Nolte, the artistic director and owner of the Nolte Academy and the Performing Arts Preschool, said she finds the collaboration fulfilling.

“Originally, I asked the theater if we could rent the space for our smaller production,” she said. “After the very first year, Beth Bewley asked us to join forces and make it even bigger. From there, we partnered with Carey Bostian to include a live orchestra and then with the Children’s Chorus under the direction of Beth Ackerson and Vicki Arnold.”

Bostian, the conductor of The Nutcracker, was happy to join the production.

The orchestra comprises a variety of musicians from high-school students to those who have been playing professionally for decades.

“The orchestra has some of the best musicians in the state,” Bostian said. “I have eight university students, primarily graduate students; I also have a couple community amateurs. The majority of my orchestra are returning members who play every year, and most have played the production in the Englert at least two or three times. I try to make it an all Iowa City orchestra. It’s a community orchestra — people from Iowa City or connected to Iowa City.”

Community is crucial to the Englert’s and the Nolte Academy’s production, and the two organize the show each year to honor and thank the community. Every aspect of the show — lighting, costumes, dancing, singing, music — is created by people from the Iowa City area.

“The community has embraced us from the beginning and has allowed for our growth,” Nolte said.

“The reason we’re so intense on community is it just couldn’t happen without tremendous effort,” Bostian said. “We’re all doing it because we love it. It’s about the community, but also, it’s about the Englert, really. When they renovated the Englert, it was a real grass-roots effort. We were all very interested in this happening. And now, since the flood, we don’t have other venues in Iowa City. It’s this great old theater; it’s this incredible place.”

The Englert opened in 1912. After suffering a fire 1926 and typical wear and tear over the decades, the Englert was sold in 1999. A bar owner planned to transform the building into a nightclub.

However, the grass-roots effort Bostian described worked to persuade the city to purchase the Englert until the Englert group could raise funds to buy and restore the historic building. After countless hours put into the theater, the many community members have grown fond of the Englert and have jumped at the chance to help with The Nutcracker.

“There are a lot of people involved,” Bostian said. “This is a full ballet with a full orchestra and sets, lights, costumes; it’s the absolute maximum you can do with this theater. It stretches the Englert to its capacity.”

Those involved with The Nutcracker feel it is worth all the effort that goes in to creating a dynamic production.

“The orchestra is hired and booked and has its music well before, but we just had our first rehearsal last Sunday,” Bostian said. “The Iowa Girls’ Choir does about a month of rehearsal beginning the second week of October. The dancers begin rehearsing right away in the fall — September, I believe.”

Each August, dancers in the Iowa City and Coralville areas attend open auditions at the Nolte Academy to attempt to secure a spot in The Nutcracker. The cast of performers is quite extensive.

“The cast is made up of 5-year-olds through professional-level young women, a professional guest artist cavalier, guest magician for Uncle Dross, and a group of adult community theater folks for the party scene,” Nolte said.

Katie Milani, a 17-year-old dancer with the Nolte Academy, reported to those auditions. She was given the role of Arabian lead and Dewdrop Fairy. This is Milani’s second year in The Nutcracker at the Englert. Last year, she portrayed the Arabian lead and the Russian lead.

“This is only my second year with Leslie,” Milani said. “I moved to Iowa City about twp years ago. My family and I actually moved here for dance. We had seen Leslie at different competitions I was in and saw her website. We came here to have a meeting with her and saw her staff and how much she cares for her dancers and wants them to grow. For years now, I’ve known that I wanted to make a professional career out of dance, and Leslie and her staff have the ability to make that happen.”

Nolte works year-round on the improvement of all her dancers, and The Nutcracker is a great time to showcase that to the community. Because so many dancers have performed in the production each year, their artistry and level of difficulty can be seen rising as time passes. Nolte feels this aspect of watching the dancers’ growth sets the Englert’s showing of this classic tale apart from all others.

“Local talent grown and educated here in the Corridor,” she said. “The level of talent our own community has — your neighbors, students, and family — is above and beyond what you may think.
These dancers can grow from being cast as a baby mouse to a soloist over the years. The growth we see is admirable and amazing and makes this community proud.”

Bostian, having watched the dancers year after year, agrees.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing the growth in the students,” he said. “Because it’s a student dance company — the students know all the roles. They have a great motivation to work harder and get to that next role. I just have to emphasize what an incredible place the Nolte Academy is.”

The experience is exciting for the audience as well.

“It’s really, really an amazing opportunity for the students, and the audience loves it,” Bostian said. “I get people stopping me on the street year-round to thank me for this production.”


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