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Sewickley-area girls chosen to perform in PBT's 'The Nutcracker'

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Samantha Luttner Submitted
Dana Jensen Submitted

Four Sewickley-area dancers have been chosen to perform in Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's “The Nutcracker” at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh throughout this month.

Dana Jensen, Brianna Brooks, Grace Merriman and Samantha Luttner are among more than 190 performers featured in the annual holiday presentation of the ballet based on the German tale written by E.T.A. Hoffmann.

PBT, which has performed “The Nutcracker” since the company's founding in 1969, created a new production in 2002 with an enhanced storyline, new choreography and a Pittsburgh theme that features a turn-of-the-century set design, thanks to artistic director Terrence Orr.

“PBT's version takes a unique angle on the traditional story, especially with the Pittsburgh-inspired set design and some details in the storyline,” said Meghan McNamara, PBT marketing coordinator. Casting is unique for every performance; one dancer can perform as many as eight roles during one season of “The Nutcracker.”

Dana, 14, daughter of Kurt and Gina Jensen of Leet Township, appears as a carousel rider in the production. The Quaker Valley ninth-grader will be inside a carousel horse and be seen from the waist up as if she is sitting on top of the horse.

She plays the violin in the school orchestra and is a member of the choir. This is the first time she has performed in “The Nutcracker.” In the spring, she also appeared in the end-of-year performance at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh.

Brianna 15, daughter of Mark and Gail Brooks of Bell Acres, will dance as a hummingbird in the production this year. The Quaker Valley sophomore, who has been taking ballet lessons since she was 3, will wear a costume with a long beak, she said, and a bodysuit with feathers and wings.

This is her fourth year with “The Nutcracker.” She has performed previously as a girl and boy in the party scene and on the carousel, as a clown, as a Clara doll, when she came out of a storybook and danced; and as one of the girls who held a Chinese dragon while the professional dancers performed. She also has performed in PBT's spring production each year.

Grace, 13, daughter of Holly and Len of Sewickley, dances as Peirrot in the battle scene this year. She will wear a white silk shirt featuring black puff balls and a white pants.

This is her sixth year performing in “The Nutcracker.” She played a soldier her first and second year, and also has appeared as a bee in the “Waltz of the Flowers” dance, a mouse in the battle scene and black sheep; a girl at a party and a clown. She has been performing with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater since she was in second grade.

Samantha, 12, daughter of Lisa and Bill Luttner, will be a toy soldier in this year's production. The Quaker Valley sixth-grader began ballet lessons at the age of 2 at Bella School of Dance in Sewickley and Michele's Dance Center in Wexford. For the first year this year, she auditioned for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and was accepted. Subsequent auditions landed her a part in “The Nutcracker.”

With the help of theatrical designer Zack Brown, the set design pays tribute to relics from Pittsburgh's past. Act I is set in Shadyside at the Stahlbaum house, rendered after F.W. McKee's mansion on Fifth Avenue.

Although the Stahlbaum family of the Hoffmann tale hosts the party, a number of historic Pittsburgh families are on the guest list, including Mr. and Mrs. Kaufmann, Mr. and Mrs. Heinz, and Mr. and Mrs. Grandview.

Other Pittsburgh imagery includes: a Heinz delivery truck; a clock inspired by the famous Kaufmann's Department Store clock; a “Kaufmann's Christmas Stories for Boys and Girls” book and an artistic rendering of the Mount Washington view as the backdrop to the snow scene.

The Pittsburgh theme continues into Act II by way of the Land of Enchantment Carousel, representing the elaborate carousels at several famous amusement parks in the Pittsburgh region.

Act II also features unique alterations to the original second act of “The Nutcracker,” as Orr has added a variety of characters to the Land of Enchantment. Act II features such performances as the Russian trepak, the Arabian dance and the “Grand Pas de Deux”danced by the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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