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'Nutcracker': Local kids take a crack at holiday ballet

| Friday, Nov. 25, 2011

Although the ubiquity of "The Nutcracker" at Christmas makes it hard to believe, the ballet was neglected for more than a half century after it first was performed in 1891.

It really caught on in the United States in the 1950s, and is the most frequently performed ballet in this country.

"The Nutcracker" is a family oriented story centered on a girl named Marie, who is growing up with loving parents and many friends. While there are other ballets about children, such as "Peter Pan," which opened Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's season in October, "The Nutcracker" is unique for the large number of children who perform in it.

When Pittsburgh Ballet casts "The Nutcracker," it turns to students at its school for the children's roles.

"It's an awesome experience that starts in September when they first audition," artistic director Terrence Orr says. "Then, there are costume calls and photo calls, and they start learning the ballet. The children are having so much fun concentrating on the experience -- a great experience for them."

Pittsburgh Ballet will present 19 performances of "The Nutcracker" from Friday to Dec. 23 at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

Adrienne Klimchak, 8, is performing "The Nutcracker" for the first time this season. She commutes from Grove City to take classes at the ballet school and will perform the Little Girl at the Christmas party.

"The rehearsal is very fun. I've been watching 'The Nutcracker' since I was 3," she says. "It's such a great experience to be with the company."

"I'm so proud of her" says he father, Joe Klimchak. He's known for his work at as in-game entertainment host at PNC Park, and for commercials he does for various Pirates' promotions, often with his wife Jennifer.

"Jennifer and I have been 'Nutcracker' goers for years, even before we brought Adrienne home from China in 2004. We're married 19 years and it was our holiday tradition to see it every year," he says. "To have our little girl onstage is one of the biggest thrills of our life."

The ballet's production was designed by Orr and debuted in 2002. It is set in Pittsburgh a century ago and opens outside the Shadyside home of the Stahlbaum family, which hosts a big Christmas party for friends and their children. Godfather Drosselmeyer's magic tricks are a big hit, but his best is a large Nutcracker in soldier's garb for young Marie Stahlbaum.

Later that night, Marie finds herself in the middle of a battle between toy soldiers and rodents, and is saved by the Nutcracker, who magically becomes a Prince. The vista of Mt. Washington is the backdrop for their journey to the Land of Enchantment, where Act II begins. In the final scene, Marie wakes up, back home in her own bed.

New this season will be variations on Drosselmeyer's magic tricks, and fresh choreography for Marie and the Prince, the Snowflakes, the Aviary and the Shepherdesses.

Two children from the Davidoff family, who live in Point Breeze, are performing in this season's "Nutcracker."

"I started three years ago because my brother was doing it," says Benjamin, 9. "My mom said go have a try and after I tried, I liked it. I like jumping and going across the floor. I'm Soldier 16 who works the canon. In 'Peter Pan' I was Michael Darling, which was fun because I got to fly. I never did that before."

Thomas, 13, says he likes having his younger brother taking dancing lessons with him "most of the time. It's good to see him progressing."

The older brother is in his fourth year at the ballet school. His mother encouraged him to dance because she felt he had the musicality for it.

"It was a lot more fun than I anticipated," Thomas says. He'd been into ice hockey, but now loves dance much more than sports and wants to be a professional dancer when he grows up.

As for dancing with girls, he says, "It's awesome."

Thomas will play young McTavish.

"It's a lot of fun. He's probably the most responsible kid at the party, other than Marie. ... I have a Petite Allegro, mainly smaller jumps. It's a small part but still energetic," he says.

The many children's roles in "The Nutcracker" provide plenty of opportunities for the young dancers as they become more experienced.

Elizabeth Shubak, 11, from Economy Boro, is performing in her third "Nutcracker." She was the Little Girl her first season, a mouse and a sheep last season. This year, she'll be an older girl at the party.

"I feel more comfortable because I know the ballet," she says. "I'm dancing with the dancers. It's great fun. The steps are more complicated than last year. I get to have a little more challenge."

Shubak was 6 when she asked for dance lessons after seeing "The Nutcracker" for the first time. She likes the idea of performing for other young people in the audience.

"I understand they may want to dance someday," she says. "I want to inspire them."

Assorted nuts

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's "The Nutcracker": Friday through Dec. 23, at 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, noon and 4:30 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. Dec. 22. Admission: $22.75-$95.75. Benedum Center, Downtown. Details: 412-456-6666 or

Laurel Ballet's "The Nutcracker": With Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra. 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 10, and 2 p.m. Dec. 11. Admission: $10-$30. Palace Theatre, Greensburg. Details: 724-836-8000 or .

Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company's "The Nutcracker" : 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 3, 2 p.m. Dec. 4. Admission: $10 and $20. Upper St. Clair Theater, 1825 McLaughlin Road, Upper St. Clair. Details: 412-969-9000 or .

Conservatory Dance Company of Point Park University's "The Jazz Nutcracker": 8 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16; 8 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17; and 2 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18. Admission: $18-$20. Pittsburgh Playhouse, Oakland. Details: 412-392-8000 or .

Photo Galleries

'The Nutcracker'

'The Nutcracker'

Young performers enjoy the chance to dance in acclaimed story.

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