By Tess Massey
For the Opelika
Variations Dance Studio will kick off the holiday season with their 7th Annual Nutcracker performance series Dec. 7-8 at The Opelika Performing Arts Center.
“We feel that the tradition of The Nutcracker ballet serves a wonderful arts education initiative for our community,” said Variations Artistic Director Stacy Young.
Variations has been in operation for 12 years, and The Nutcracker became part of their in-house repertoire in 2012.
“It is a wonderful tradition to expose our students to, regardless of their age during participation,” Young said. “The experience of listening to the Tchaikovsky score while watching the storytelling and beautiful dancing provides a wonderful arts-infused experience for audience members of all ages.”
According to Young, there are 150 Variations Company dancers and more than 375 costumes in this year’s performance of The Nutcracker. She added that there are many roles and exciting scenes that are continually adjusted to best showcase Variations Company members and community cast members.
“We are thrilled with the changes we have made to the production choreography to keep the show new and exciting for our audience,” she said. “We also have many additions to our Nutcracker costume collection, which pair nicely with the new choreography throughout the performances.”
Variations prides itself on providing a Nutcracker performance that involves younger dancers, and encourages them to be interactive throughout the entire story of the ballet. Young said that this year’s dancers range from seven to 18 years old. Additionally, lead roles are performed by young area students.
“We do our best to have our dancers perform the roles throughout the show, and bring in guest artists to accompany them in the partnering sections,” Young said.
Young added that although this production is the largest scale in the area, with 150 cast members, Variations is able to accurately accomplish the classic storyline of the ballet.
“For our dancers, the dancing enables them to directly experience being fully immersed with this terrific score while being engaged in a wonderful history of the ballet art form,” she said. “Of course, the performance provides a timeless arts experience for our audience members alike, and serves as a perfect family outing to help kick off the Christmas season.”
This year’s production is directed by the Variations team, including Gretchen Patchell, Anslee Palmer, Laura Villalobos and Young, who have collaborated to ensure The Nutcracker performances come together. Young said her team is detail-oriented, and allows Variations students to fully immerse themselves in their work.
“It is really special to watch the dancers first learn their choreography and observe the progress they make as they continually improve not only in their technique, but also in their understanding of their assigned roles and characterization required in this classic holiday story,” Young said.
Young reflected on her own journey as a dancer under West Chapman, an acclaimed ballet instructor and former American Ballet Theater Principal Dancer at the Alabama Ballet. As a dancer for the Alabama Ballet, Young was instrumental in performing for the Balanchine Trust Board to acquire the Balanchine Choreography license for The Nutcracker.
“Performing for the Balanchine Trust Board was a wonderful learning experience when I was dancing, and performing Balanchine infused choreography was a fun challenge, as that style is not as common in this area,” she said.
Earlier this fall, Chapman assisted Variations by working directly with the Sugar Plum Fairies and the Sugar Plum Cavalier.
“It was a full circle moment to work alongside my former mentor as he coached some of my students to fine tune the classic Sugar Plum Pas de Deux,” she said.
Performances of The Nutcracker will be Dec. 7 at 6:30 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m.; performances are 95 minutes long with a 15-minute intermission included.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.TutuTix.com/VariationsStudio. Tickets will also be available at the theater lobby at 5:45 p.m. before both performances.
Each ticket purchase will automatically serve as an entry into Variations Sugar Plum Sweepstakes, a holiday giveaway with a value of $1,950 featuring prizes from several local business sponsors.
For more information about The Nutcracker and Variations Dance Studio, visit www.variationsauburn.com.