Harker dancers are dancing in both the San Jose and San Francisco productions of “The Nutcracker” this year. At least eight students, from all three campuses, are participating, and more seem to turn up daily.
Katherine Dow, grade 2, is a mouse in this year’s Ballet San Jose production of the eternal children’s classic. “I have been dancing for four years, since I was three. This is my second year with Ballet San Jose,” and her first appearance in a production, she said. “The most fun thing about being a mouse in the ‘Nutcracker’ is jumping on the soldiers during my dance.”
One grade 3 student, Mimi Campbell, also a mouse, is doing it for the second year in a row. She has been taking ballet for almost six years, and is in her third year at Ballet San Jose School. She said “Dancing onstage for a big audience, fighting with and jumping on the soldiers in the mouse battle!” are the most memorable parts of being in the production.
Classmate Andrew Cheplansky, also grade 3, dances the part of Fritz. He started ballet because his sister, grade 5 student Anastasia, had been attending ballet school and their busy parents needed to consolidate their children’s activities to keep life manageable. “In the beginning Andrew did not like doing ballet,” said his mother, Marina Ovchinnikov, “but with Andrew’s progress and ballet teacher’s encouragement Andrew’s attitude has changed and he enjoys doing ballet now – but not as much as playing soccer or ice hockey.” Andrew’s credits at the Ballet San Jose include “Romeo and Juliet” as the son of a vegetable seller and “Giselle” as a village child.
Though not in this production, Anastasia has been doing ballet for about eight years and had roles in “The Nutcracker” as a mouse; “Coppelia” as the daughter of a flower seller; the title role in “Ugly Duckling”; and “Giselle” as a village child.
Another third grader, Charlotte Brezoczky, joined her sister, Emma, grade 5, in the Ballet San Jose production this year, both as mice. Charlotte has been training since she was three years old and this is her first professional production, “but I also love singing and dancing,” she said. “I was just cast as the King of the Monkeys in ‘The Jungle Book,’ and have been in productions of ‘Annie,’ ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ and ‘Aladdin.’” For Charlotte, “dancing with the company – that I get to be in a real show dancing with the professional company,” is the most fun!
Sister Emma is a five-time veteran of the Ballet San Jose production, and has been dancing for seven years. “When I was two-and-a-half years old my parents took me to ‘The Nutcracker’ and I told my mom that I wanted to be a mouse!” She has only danced “The Nutcracker” professionally, but “this year, I was very excited to be able to dance with Dance Fusion at Harker,” she said. This year, the entire grade 5 class will attend “The Nutcracker” and “I’m really glad that the fifth grade class gets to see me dance this year! In all the years I’ve been in ‘The Nutcracker,’ this is the first year my classmates have been able to see me.” In addition to that thrill, Emma loves “just being on stage; I feel happy and it is fun. I also have been able to meet some of the professional dancers, like Willie (Anderson) – the Mouse King – and he is a really nice and a really good dancer.”
Charlotte and Emma’s mom, Kelly Lewis Brezoczky, said what she likes is “the girls get the opportunity to be in a professional show working together as a team. ‘Nutcracker’ auditions are in late September and this team of mice rehearse together every Saturday for two months getting ready for this production. They support each other and learn to work together as a unit on stage. It’s about the sum of the parts being greater than the whole, and I think that is a great lesson for the children who participate. The professional dancers are also really great mentors to the kids. They love dancing with them!”
One of Emma’s classmates, Lauren Luspo, will also get the thrill of knowing her classmates have seen the production. She, too, has been dancing since age 3 and is in “The Nutcracker” for the third time. “We started practicing ‘Nutcracker’ Oct. 2 for two hours every Saturday. This is in addition to my three hours of ballet classes per week,” she said. “Rehearsals were hectic last week.”
Luspo doesn’t mind the long hours, though. “I’m passionate about ballet. Like playing the piano, when I am on stage I forget about being shy. Being in ‘Nutcracker’ is so much fun! I also learn discipline and focus. I think it helps me be a better student!
“I also have a ballet family and some of them are already from Harker! I make lots of new friends. Most of all, I get to rehearse with the lead characters like Maria and the Mouse King! I enjoy ‘Nutcracker’ – I just wished all the Harker students were all together in the same cast! I look forward to doing it every year!”
Helena Dworak, grade 7, will perform with the San Francisco Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” for her second year in a row, playing a member of the cavalry. Dworak trained for six years with the San Jose Ballet and was in their production of “The Nutcracker” for four years. One year, she traveled to China with the San Jose Ballet to dance in “The Firebird.”
One thing she particularly enjoys about ballet is the thrill of seeing world-class performers onstage. “Watching world-famous dancers perform on the stage from backstage or the wings is an amazing experience,” she said. “It provides a different perspective from a private angle.”
As much as Dworak enjoys ballet, she admits that it requires a lot of hard work. “Ballet may look like a delicate activity, but the training required is physically and emotionally intense,” she said.
Two girls in the upper school are in the production, both as snowflakes. Angela Ma, grade 9, and Sara Howells, grade 11, have been dancing since they were four and three, respectively. At age 14, Ma has been dancing for nine years. “Throughout these years, I participated in many BSJ (Ballet San Jose) productions,” said Ma, which have included parts in “Giselle” and “The Toreador,” both as a village child, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” where she played a fairy.
“I enjoy the professional experience I gained from these performances,” said Ma. “Ballet has introduced me to many dancers, each with a beautiful personality. I find that I can learn something from everyone, the students and the professional company dancers.
“BSJ has been the birthplace of many of my favorite memories,” Ma said, “from standing for the first time at the incredibly high barres to learning to dance in pointe shoes to performing in a professional production. As I grow up, the barres no longer seem so high and the teachers become a part of my family. This is my first year playing the part of a ‘Snowflake’ in the BSJ company production of “The Nutcracker” and I look forward to it.”
Howells has been at Ballet San Jose school since 1998. She took an 18-month break from ballet to play sports, but, “I missed ballet too much and quickly returned to BSJ school,” she said.
“I was a mouse in ‘The Nutcracker’ twice, and a snowflake last year,” Howell said. “I also understudied the corps de ballet section of ‘Giselle,’ and have performed in various BSJ School end-of-the-year productions.” She also noted that over the past summer she attended the Boston Ballet School Summer Dance Program, “which was a great opportunity to improve and grow as a dancer and to meet other ballet students from all over the country.”
The dedication and hard work each of these dancers has put in is apparent, and the ballet mistress of the BSJ School, Dalia Rawson, sends special thanks to Harker. “I am responsible for rehearsing both the snowflakes and the mice, and I am sincerely grateful to the faculty and administration of The Harker School,” she said, thanking Harker on behalf of BSJ’s artistic staff “for support that has been shown to these students, especially Sarah Howells and Angela Ma who needed to reschedule some finals to accommodate our theater schedule. I am gratified that these talented students can continue to excel artistically at Ballet San Jose while following a rigorous academic schedule, and sincerely appreciate Harker for allowing these students to pursue professional ballet training and performance experience.”
Long hours bring rich rewards, though. For Howells, “the most memorable performance experience I have had was the first time I danced as a snowflake, with the falling fake snow and the scenery and costume, which made that experience the most exhilarating of the many performances I have been in.” The role is one she has long aspired to. “I have always wanted to be a snowflake in “The Nutcracker,” which I have finally achieved!” she said.