Hot off the heels of last weekend’s Anchorage Concert Association “Nutcracker” extravaganza, every production company in south-central Alaska is taking a turn in the classic Christmas ballet.
Pulse Dance Studio is there this weekend, as is the Glenn Massay Theater down the valley, but let’s not forget that ‘The Nutcracker’ is at the heart of ballet, and the Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy once offers its finest pirouette like no other Friday and Saturday at the Performing Arts Center. They are, after all, the dedicated ballet students who dedicate themselves to what is probably the most technically and physically demanding pursuit in all of dance.
“For any ballet school or company, The Nutcracker is the staple and the highlight of the season,” said Michelangelo Canale, ABCA’s artistic director. “When I was in a touring company, we were doing 40 shows year after year, and some of the dancers if they heard ‘Waltz of Flowers’ or anything from The Nutcracker, they’d say ‘turn it off. But I’ve never been like that. It’s beautiful music. I hear the Trepak and I immediately have this adrenaline in my heart.
As usual, the ABCA brings in world-class professional talent in the key dance roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Pepita Youalli) and her Rider (Argenis Montalvo).
“They are all very high-level international stars for directors,” Canale said Saturday at the ballet studio in the Geneva Woods shopping center on International Airport Road. “Our school is internationally recognized – we produce a high standard right here in this little shoebox of a studio.”
The rest of the cast is made up of ACBA students, including seasoned dancer Moriah Walker, who takes on several roles this year including that of the mother of Mary (sometimes called Clara). At 24, Walker has been with the local ballet company since he was 5 years old. She always looks forward to playing The Nutcracker year after year.
“With the Anchorage Ballet, I did several productions (of The Nutcracker),” Walker said. “I appreciate the traditionalism of this one – you think of Christmas, you think of The Nutcracker… You have to mentally prepare yourself every time. You have to do your mental preparation because everyone is stressed and you have to be there for each other.
Walker remembers being drawn to ballet nearly 20 years ago.
“I saw a production and I remember it was so beautiful how they articulated with every move and I wanted to be a part of it,” she said.
Bailey Taitano, 17, started ballet at the age of 5, but only got serious two years ago.
“I did a little ballet when I was 5, but, like all the girls do, but not the serious stuff they do here,” Taitano said. “It’s hard to figure out how to control everything, from what your little fingers are doing to what you’re doing with your eyes. And, it’s all in French, so there’s learning.
Both described ballet as a labor of love that requires a lot of sacrifice and stress, both mental and physical.
“I have to stretch my feet because my arches aren’t very good,” Taitano said. “It’s a very painful thing to do – I have to do it every day.”
“It’s blood, sweat and tears,” joked Walker, who still dreams of performing in productions around the world as a guest, à la Youalli and Montalvo. “Eventually, I hope to become independent. I like to dance and I like to learn from others – the tastes and the art of others. I hope to be able to travel and see what other people are doing.
In pursuit of her dreams, Walker has discovered that it is a commitment that goes beyond what a dancer does in the studio; he bleeds in his daily life.
“You have to be super aware of what you’re doing day to day — what you’re putting into your body, what your daily routine is,” Walker said. “Everyone suffers from chronic injuries when you practice this art form. Your body breaks down at a young age if you’re not careful. You won’t get there if you’re not careful.
Matt Mahoric is brand new to dance of all kinds, and in the all-important, well-costumed role of The Nutcracker, he experiences first-hand what engagement ballet is all about.
“I would say it was a little shocking – fun, but a little challenging,” the 16-year-old West High student said. “They were looking for a boy to be The Nutcracker and I was offered the part, so why not give it a try? I had no formal dance experience, and it’s very difficult technically, but I practiced a lot .
Decades Mahoric’s senior, John Fraser has a background in musical theater as a character dancer and he will reprise his role as Drosselmeyer for the first time in his fourth year at the ACBA.
“It’s a lot of heaving and rushing the stage, spreading the Christmas magic to everyone at the party,” Fraser said. “There’s fantastic dancing in there with experts of all ages, from kids to professional dancers. People will be treated to the holiday spirit and cheer and Tchaikovsky’s fantastic score – there’s everything we love about Christmas in one place.
Another classy man is Josiah Harvey, who counts Toy Soldier among his multiple roles on this weekend’s show. He is a five-year veteran of the academy and has participated in almost as many Nutrackers.
“My mom practically made me take that first class and I didn’t quit,” the 15-year-old homeschooler said. “I just love the artistry and being able to describe yourself while dancing.”
Harvey said he preaches the gospel of ballet when possible to his friends.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” he said. “Seeing everyone dancing makes me want to dance. I pretty much say something I can’t say in physical form (instead).
Canale said ACBA enrollment remains high and interest is strong despite conventional wisdom that ballet is a dying art form.
Walker said she sees new generations of ballet dancers catching the virus all the time.
“The great thing about ballet is that it’s an art form that you’re always learning, so no matter how old you are, it helps you become more aware of yourself, helps you be more aware of how which your body feels at all times,” she said. . “It has so many benefits for people of all ages. It’s an endless process.
The Friday show is at 7 p.m. with a pair of shows on Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.