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Family, community play big ‘Nutcracker’ roles in Saratoga City Ballet production at The Egg in Albany

Family, community play big ‘Nutcracker’ roles in Saratoga City Ballet production at The Egg in Albany

Production of classic features plenty of new wrinkles while remaining true to tradition
Family, community play big ‘Nutcracker’ roles in Saratoga City Ballet production at The Egg in Albany
Christian Serrano and Lilli Jersen dance during dress rehearsal for “The Nutcracker” at Saratoga City Ballet.
Photographer: erica miller

Going to see “The Nutcracker” is a holiday tradition for many families. 

The ballet has recently become a tradition for the Bradford family, too — just in a much more active way. 

For the past two years, dad Turner Bradford and children Charlotte and Henry have all taken part in the Saratoga City Ballet & Nacre production of “The Nutcracker.”

“It was a ton of fun,” Turner said. 

Though he was new to dance, he signed up last year to make Henry feel more comfortable in the production. Both Henry, 8, and Charlotte, 10, have been dancing at Saratoga City Ballet for several years, but it was the first time they’d signed up for the classic holiday production. 

They were all in the party scene in the first act and rehearsed every Friday for several weeks before the early December performance. 

“They obviously love doing ‘The Nutcracker,’ but I think it was enhanced by having their dad there. …  We don’t think of dance as an activity that you do with your dad, but it was a time when they were able to just be together, go to practice together. It’s been really nice for the three of them,” said Susan Bradford, who assisted with costumes for the production. 

They all signed up again this year for the show, and Charlotte said she hopes they can continue their streak for years to come. For many dancers like Charlotte and Henry, the holiday ballet represents a sense of progress. 

“ ‘The Nutcracker’ is really a rite of passage for dancers. Every year it’s something they look forward to,” said director Beth Fecteau.

She’s directed the production many times throughout her career and does it differently each time. This year, she doubled the number of dancers involved in the production, from 50 last year to 100, by joining together her modern dance company Nacre with Saratoga City Ballet and Albany-based Art in Motion. 

“My dance company’s mission is to build community, to build traditions in dance within our community. So I thought, ‘How can I carry out my mission within the structure of Saratoga City Ballet: The Nutcracker?’ ” Fecteau said. 

She invited students from Art in Motion to take on the battle scene, choreographed by Nacre’s Zachary Frazee. She also invited students to audition for other roles in the production, so some of the Albany students are featured throughout the show. 

“It’s been a great collaboration, so I think we’re going to take that model every year and focus on a studio in our community that can carry the battle scene. We’re trying to build not just our audience — that is an important part of this; it’s a great fundraiser for organizations, which is why companies do ‘The Nutcracker’ — but it’s also to build excitement and to give opportunities for area dancers within these productions and to learn from each other. They get to meet new kids and make new friends, dance with new people. That’s been a huge plus,” Fecteau said. 

Along with inviting another school to perform, Fecteau also decided to add several male dancers to “Waltz of the Flowers,” a scene that’s typically only performed by female dancers. Fecteau said that while the male dancers have found the movements challenging, it’s also been rewarding for them to take on. 

She also went against the norm with one of the lead roles in the story ballet. “I’m never happy with Clara just sitting and watching the second act onstage, which is typically what you do with that character because it’s her dream,” Fecteau said.  

Instead, Clara, played by Lilli Jersen, dances all through the second act. 

Jersen, a junior at Saratoga Springs High School, has taken ballet classes since she was 3 and has been in “The Nutcracker” 10 times throughout her dancing career. While she understudied the role of Clara last year, taking on the additional dances has been a unique challenge. 

“There are a lot of different styles of dance. I’m doing Spanish, then I’m doing a little bit of modern for ‘Flowers’ ” Jersen said. 

Because most of her dancing career has focused on ballet, she hasn’t studied many other styles, and thus had to learn them quickly for “The Nutcracker.” But a benefit of dancing a variety of styles is that her feet get a break from regular pointe shoes. 

She changes into character shoes for her dance with the Spaniard and is in bare feet for the modern dance. To go with the new dances, Clara also needed new costumes. Fecteau worked with a costume designer who also works with Home Made Theater to create custom costumes that Jersen could change out of quickly. 

While the production is different from year to year, Jersen said she always enjoys the party scene, and finds that the story of “The Nutcracker” remains germane to modern viewers even though it’s more than 100 years old. 

“I think that it’s a really old story that’s still relevant today. It’s never stopped being a tradition,” Jersen said. 

“The Nutcracker,” presented by Saratoga City Ballet, kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at The Egg. There will be another showing at 7:30 p.m. that night, as well as a showing at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8. Tickets are $20 for students and seniors, and $28 for adults. For information, visit saratogacityballet.com.

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