Photos: Alex as a Rat and Mother Ginger. Also Claire Yaghjian, daughter of another Columbia artist with a studio at Vista Studios, and Alex.
Last week was the annual start of Nutcracker Season here in Columbia. Believe it or not, we have four productions each year (minimum!) Both "professional" companies rent the Koger Center back-to-back December weekends, starting with Radenko Pavlovich's group this coming Friday night. Vibrations Dance Company puts on "Sista Girl and the Solider", an ethnic version of the classic. Carolina Ballet, the civic group, started it all off at the Township.
There was first a "sold out" performance for Richland School District One's fifth graders last Tuesday. On Wednesday there was a show honoring firefighters and city employees. Lots of pre-sold tickets went to such groups. The public opening was Friday night. It was followed by another evening performance on Saturday and a matinee on Sunday. This is the only group using live music, which is a real bonus but does not necessarily mean that the horns ever hit the right notes or that the tempo is even paced throughout any scene.
This was Alex's fifth seasonal appearance in the production. He's been the Nutcracker Prince (not to be confused with the Sugar Plum Cavalier!) This has been a real dancing roll before (as when Joseph Phillips, then age 12 or thereabouts, danced it) The kid dancing the part this year has some potential. When Alex did it (sixth grade), the part was strictly an acting role. Of course, I'm partial, but Alex was excellent, quite a ham. Then he grew. By seventh grade he was as tall as Jim Moon who plays Clara's Dad. By eighth grade he was nearly six foot tall. Yet, that first Nutcracker experience made him totally loyal to Carolina Ballet, civic companies, and non-profit arts organizations.
In past years he's headed the Chinese dragon, been a solider, a party gentleman, and this year was a cadet, the rat buffon, and Mother Ginger (third year in this part). As a rat, Alex is the one shot by a cannon and carrying others off-stage. He is hilarious. As a cadet, Alex actually partners one of the party girls. As Mother Ginger, Alex steals the show. The Bon-Bons all call him "mommy".
As for the rest of the production, what can I say? These are kids. There's two hundred or more of them. There are never enough boys and men. There are always too many three and four year olds. There are only so many costumes in so many sizes. All the young girls want to be Clara. All the older ones want to be in lead roles, whether capably of dancing the part or not. There are dozens of "helpful" mothers gossiping in the hallways, and there's fund-raising, poster distribution, and an eighteen-wheeler to move the production. Casting must be a total nightmare. Every year it is a different show.
Last year, Steve and I went to Friday, Saturday, and Sundays shows. I went into the theater for the end of the school performance. Steve went in for the end of the Wednesday show. Of course, Mathias was dancing the Sugar Plum Cavalier role. He partnered Anna Varn, one of the local girls, something that generally only happens when the company is forced to hire a professional man for this part (as they do for several of the second act variations). It was wonderful to see both our sons on stage at the same time. There were plenty of talented high school girls in all the variations, but they've all graduated now.
This year, we went to Saturday night's show only. Keith Mears and his partner Abigail Mentzer from Pennsylvania Ballet dance the final pas. Keith is from here. His sister Sarah is a soloist at NYCB; he's an apprentice in Pennsylvania. I'm not sure if Abigail is in the corps or also an apprentice. They did an adequate job but were rather lackluster. Perhaps it was just me. I did feel sorry for Keith especially. It must be very, very hard following Mathias and Joseph (who danced it the autumn after winning gold in Jackson) and having such a talented sister. While the experience might have been absolutely wonderful, I doubt if it was the "home" Alex found in Carolina Ballet.