‘The Nutcracker’ at Proctors to feature cast of 105, several dozen volunteers

Kayla Xu and Claire Steele will perform as Clara in “The Nutcracker.” Right: Harrison Sodre will be dancing as the Rat King, the Party Gentleman and the Chinese and Spanish solos. (Courtesy Northeast Ballet)

Kayla Xu and Claire Steele will perform as Clara in “The Nutcracker.” Right: Harrison Sodre will be dancing as the Rat King, the Party Gentleman and the Chinese and Spanish solos. (Courtesy Northeast Ballet)

Northeast Ballet’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” this weekend is bigger and more diverse than ever.

“There will be a 105-member cast with ages from 6 to their 50s,” said company artistic director Darlene Myers. “It’s close to the largest cast we’ve ever had and this is our 35th ‘Nutcracker.’ We also reached out to the local Ukrainian community and we’re having two freelance Ukrainian dancers, Petro Pitula and Darko Borsa, in — we’ re not calling it the Russian dance — [it’s a] Ukrainian dance. We’re very excited about them.”

There is also new choreography in Act II and for the first time Myers is letting the two dancers from American Ballet Theatre, who are dancing the snow pas de deux, do their own choreography.

“They’re fantastic dancers and the new Confection Dance is one of my favorites,” she said. “I always try to use the talent of the dancers in front of me and work with the music and what the dancers are good at. You must not give choreography below or above them. You must mesh it all together … and change the vision to make it work.”

For the sixth year, New York City Ballet dancer/choreographer Lauren Lovette will be the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her cavalier this year is also NYC Ballet principal Taylor Stanley.

“He was her cavalier two years ago and they’re fabulous together,” Myers said.

One of her company’s own is, however, doing several of the character roles. Harrison Sodre will be dancing as the Rat King, the Party Gentleman and the Chinese and Spanish solos.

“He’s come a long way. He got the dancing bug and joined the company in the 2020s,” Myers said. “We nurtured him and he’s very talented and wonderful to work with.”

Sodre will also be dancing as Mother Ginger in one of the two dances the company is performing at the Melodies of Christmas show Dec. 15-18. Bruce Williams, who has done the role of Mother Ginger at least 26 times so far over the years, will continue as Mother Ginger in this “Nutcracker” show. And because the cast has so many little dancers, Williams will be hiding more of them under his skirts, Myers said.

Another long–time company member, Spencer Lee, will also be performing in both offerings. But Lee, who Myers recently named as assistant artistic director, has a special story.

“I was four years old and my family took me to see Northeast Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ and I fell in love,” Lee said. “I wanted to dance and to be in it. So my parents called the school and Myers answered and told her I wanted to take ballet. When they told her I was four, she said she was not a day care and to call back when I was six.”

But Lee never forgot about ballet. His parents signed him up for gym and other physical classes, but on his sixth birthday they called Myers and he quickly took his first class.

“I never stopped and danced in other companies. It became who I am,” Lee said.

He also met his wife, Ashley, who is also a ballet dancer, in Mississippi and eventually both moved back to Schenectady. Lee will be in the character role of Clara’s father, and with his wife will be dancing at the “Melodies of Christmas” show in one of the White Christmas pas de deux.

“I love the medium to tell a story and it’s why ‘Nutcracker’ means so much to me,” he said. “It’s magic and imagination pulled together. And I always loved the variations and steps of the dances.”

Although he still does barre and stays in shape so he can occasionally dance, his duties now are more about running the rehearsals and working on the leads’ artistry. But ‘Nutcracker’ has become almost a family event. His niece is one of Mother Ginger’s children this year and his mother, after attending countless shows, got on stage for the first time in 2019 as one of the maids and did a one-handed cartwheel, Lee said laughing.
Clara, volunteers

While soloists or principals are guest artists, Myers found her Clara in Kayla Xu through audition.

“There’s a lot of competition for the role, but this is her first Clara and she’s one of the best I’ve had. She’s just a gift, a gem,” Myers said.

For the Friday morning school presentation at Proctors, however, Claire Steele will be acting as Clara, Myers said.

Although the ‘Nutcracker’ production works to a tape of the music, which eliminates having to deal with musicians, a backstage crew is needed to be sure all the dancers get on stage when they have to. For that, Myers said her 45 volunteers, who make up the In the Wings Volunteers, are “phenomenal.”

“The company couldn’t survive without the tedious and caring hours in the Proctors dressing rooms with our young dancers,” she said.

Making it all look real, Christine Steenburgh and Jane Havis run a 19-member costume department; Alice Manzi, Jeff Chaney and Dale Clark built the sets and props; Adirondack Studios built the Growing Tree; Bruce Connolly designed the lighting.

Northeast Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Proctors
HOW MUCH: $45 – $20
MORE INFO:, 518 346-6204

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts

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