The Great Wilmington Nutcracker is onstage at the Wilson Center Saturday, 12/15 at 6:00pm and Sunday, 12/16 at 3:00pm. In addition to 30 professional dancers, the show includes a choir, aerialists, stiltwalkers ... and for the first time, an intermission performance by dancers from the Special Olympics.
We spoke with Elizabeth Hester, the Director of US International Ballet and Wilmington Ballet Company, and Special Olympics dancer Tamara Markins. Listen above, and check back for our extended conversation.
The Artistic Directors of the Great Wilmington Nutcracker are Ines Albertini and Walter Angelini from Italy (picture above). They also perform in this production with over two dozen professional dancers from 5 countries.
Gina: Elizabeth, your productions always include a lot of community groups and you find a way to involve so many different people in whatever show you're doing; the Nutcracker has been no exception. Tell me what's going on with this Nutcracker?
Elizabeth: So, the Wilmington Ballet Company's purpose is to bring the community together and to raise all of the arts for our community by exposing people to professional ballet. So we have Thalian Association singing live in the lobby and singing during the snow scene. We have three different studios, including two in town and one rural studio. We have Special Olympics. We have, as usual, probably over 300 participants in our productions. We have aerial artists, stilt artists. It is a huge collaborative event
Gina: There's one way that it's described that I really love, which is “a holiday spectacular.”
Elizabeth: It is! Obviously it's an immersive spectacle experience from the moment you walk in until the end of the show. You're surrounded by—you walk in and there's a choir singing in the lobby. You come into the theater and there's a pre-show going on, you have stilt walkers and choir members come down the aisles as we're performing. It is really a spectacle! And for that reason I think it entertains anyone. My husband always says to try to entertain Average Joe and make average Joe love the ballet. And to do that, you really have to put on a spectacle. It has to be a lot bigger than just tutus and tiaras. And we do that. We put them up high on silks. We will surprise you in the theater.
Gina: There's even an intermission show.
Elizabeth: There is always an intermission show, and our intermission show this year is really amazing because we're working with Special Olympics and we are doing an adaptive dance intermission show and it involves dancers from our company, children dancers, and our adaptive dancers from Special Olympics. And I think it is truly an amazing celebration at the holidays.
Gina: And the performers from Special Olympics are also in the teenager scene.
Elizabeth: Yeah, so we have five dancers, we have two couples and a very special young lady with cerebral palsy who dances with her friends in her wheelchair and the five adaptive dancers are integrated into the party scene. They come to the party and dance with everyone at the party and it's really beautiful.
Gina: That's really cool. I performed in that scene when I was growing up. All I wanted was to be in snow, which I finally did get in snow, but still my favorite part was the party scene as one of the teenagers. Tamara, can you tell me how you're involved in this Nutcracker performance?
Tamara: Well, I'm actually doing the intermission show and I'm also doing the party scene and I am very excited to do it. We're learning a lot of steps and stuff and it's a lot of fun.
Gina: Tell me about the dancing you're doing for the party scene.
Tamara: So, we're doing the... what is it called?
Elizabeth: The box step.
Tamara: The box step and we hold our hands and we're going around and dancing together.
Gina: Like a waltz?
Tamara: Like a waltz.
Gina: That must be so much fun.
Tamara: It is very fun.
Gina: Do you get a fancy costume as well?
Tamara: Yes. You do get a very fancy costume.
Gina: Now, Elizabeth, you're known for your fancy costumes.
Elizabeth: We do have an elaborate party scene as you will know, and this is no exception. So our adaptive dancers are beautiful, and there are Christmas special costumes. And what's really special is we have professional dancers from all over the world and to see them come together with children from our community, from special adaptive dancers from our community, is really I think what holiday season is all about and how we can all celebrate at the Nutcracker and we'll touch everyone.
Gina: Tamara, are you dancing with a gentleman?
Tamara: Yes I am.
Gina: And how is he? Is he dancing all right?
Tamara: Yeah, he dances really good because he is actually my dance partner at the bowling alley because we dance all the time.
Gina: So you love dancing and this was a great opportunity for you?
Tamara: Yes, it is.
Gina: How did you find out about the opportunity to perform in the Nutcracker?
Tamara: Well, I found out from a friend of mine that I go to tennis with, his name is Trevor and his mom told me about the ballet and I was like, "Ooh, this is gonna be a great opportunity!" Because this was my dream since I was a little girl wanting to be in the ballet. So it was like, let's do this. So I did and I signed up and here I am today.
Gina: Tell me about the intermission piece that you're performing.
Tamara: We're doing the intermission piece where we're doing a dance all of us together and we're doing a special dance, the whole team. And it's going to be really fantastic.
Gina: What music are you using?
Tamara: I'm not 100 percent sure the name of it.
Gina: Do you know, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: It's from the Nutcracker. They're using party scene music.
Gina: That's great. Does this make you want to dance more?
Tamara: Yes, it does.
Gina: Now this is the thing that can happen after performing in a show. After it's done, it can be like, "Oh, what do I do now?" Some people can feel depressed …
Tamara: No, I'm never depressed. I'm always happy and excited and I always do something else and go dance somewhere else.
Gina: Well, that's what I was going to tell you, but I guess you already know. I was gonna say, make sure after this is over that you keep doing some of that performing and dancing.
Elizabeth: And one thing Gina, I've been amazed by this experience personally and how much it has become the highlight of my week. I look forward to it every week and so this is going to be something that we do ongoing and it is open to everyone. You don't have to necessarily participate in Special Olympics, or you can, but anyone who has a difference that may make regular ballet class or regular dance class difficult, we will have an ongoing adaptive dance program open to everyone. And it is my hope that we have it in every one of our shows and we do them all throughout the year.
Gina: So tell me, Elizabeth, about some of the other dancers who are performing. Because I do know that you have the USIB, the U.S. International Ballet, it's a new company that you have and you've actually brought professional dancers to Wilmington and some of them from other countries.
Elizabeth: So we now have 30 dancers from five countries under the leadership of Walter Angelini and Ines Albertini—they're a married couple who were Italian ballet stars who moved here from Italy to found this company with us. And we've attracted over 30 professional dancers from five countries who have all relocated their lives to Wilmington to dance with U.S. International Ballet who will always perform with Wilmington Ballet Company but will also tour.
Gina: And some of these dancers will be in this performance of the Nutcracker?
Elizabeth: All of these dancers will be in the performance of the Nutcracker.
Gina: All of them?
Elizabeth: All of them. So it is a very, very professional performance now, and it's under the artistic direction of Walter and Ines. So it's directed by world-renowned artists and has a cast with 30 professional dancers throughout it. And they've really artistically and brilliantly intermingled our community into that. And so it's beautiful.
Gina: I love how you have these professional dancers integrated with people from the Special Olympics, some may have never had ballet training at all. Yet there's a place for everyone in this production.
Elizabeth: Well Gina, what you may know about me, but your listeners probably don't, that I am from this region and when I grew up here, there was not very much ballet here. So I used to be an engineer, when I left engineering to start a ballet company, it was my goal 20 years ago to be able to open a professional company that influenced the whole community and not just a certain element of it. So I couldn't be happier that we're there now and we're accomplishing that. And what I see is that it is good for everyone. Even the highest professional, they have something to learn as well from our whole community. So I think it's causing them to grow as well as influencing and bringing up the level of arts in our region.
Gina: Elizabeth, this is a big production. What's your favorite moment or one of your favorite moments?
Elizabeth: I think I probably have two. And one this year would be my adaptive dance program. I think there's something extremely special about having that as a part of a very professional ballet. And then my second would be the "Grand Pas de Deux," particularly this year because my Italian friends are so beautiful inside and out and they are so in love with each other as a married couple and it really translates and it makes me want to cry every time I see it.
Gina: And Tamara, what is your favorite part or one of them, or you could even say two, since Elizabeth did, of the Nutcracker?
Tamara: Like can I say a scene or...?
Gina: Yes, you can say whatever you like.
Tamara: My favorite part when I was a little girl is the Sugar Plum Fairy. I've always loved the Sugar Plum Fairy and the very beginning of the show where Clara gets the Nutcracker and she holds it and she looks up at it and just dances with it very gracefully. It's just something that touches my heart.
Gina: Tamara, have you had any dance lessons at all?
Tamara: Yes. I have, when I was younger, when I was like little-little. And then I had dance lessons when I was up in my teen years, I've had tap and hip-hop.
Gina: Oh, fun.
Tamara: Yeah. So that has actually given me some grace to help me with ballet and stuff.
Gina: There are two performances of the spectacular, the Great Wilmington Nutcracker, Saturday and Sunday, December 15th and 16th.
Elizabeth: Saturday is at 6:00 and Sunday is at 3:00. Tickets are at capefearstage.com or at the box office.