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Cue the Ballet

NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet returns to Missoula and includes local talent

Leap into the holiday season this year at the "Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet" where for one night only, gifted dancers from around the world will be joined on stage by children from the Missoula community to perform this enchanting holiday classic.

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the story in "The Nutcracker" ballet, beginning with a Christmas Eve party in the Stahlbaum family home when young Clara receives the gift of an exquisite wooden nutcracker. Clara’s dreams that night bring her Nutcracker Prince to life, along with the fearsome Mouse King, the elegant Sugar Plum Fairy, and an array of dancers from exotic lands, all set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless score.

Whether you’ve never seen a production of "The Nutcracker," or your holiday season isn’t complete without watching at least one performance, Talmi Entertainment’s production of the Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet guarantees to dazzle with innovative choreography incorporating classical ballet and a few surprises sprinkled in like circus acrobatics, puppetry, and stunning sets and costumes.

A highlight of any performance put on by Talmi Entertainment is the opportunity to see their international cast of principal dancers from countries such as Japan, Italy, Turkey, and Ukraine. The theme will be especially poignant to both dancers and audience members this year as it emphasizes unity and peace through dance, with Act II being set in the Land of Peace and Harmony. One of those international dancers you’ll be eager to watch is Ukrainian Anna Trofimova, a soloist and audition director with Talmi Entertainment.

Anna has been dancing for as long as she can remember. “When I was a little girl, I saw the ballet on the TV. I asked my mom to take me to the ballet studio, and here I am,” she says. Anna studied at the Vadim Pisarev School of Choreographic Mastery and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from the Ukrainian National University of Culture and Arts. She has danced in numerous classic ballet productions such as "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" throughout Europe and North America. She has also performed in Missoula two times in the past and is looking forward to returning.

What Anna enjoys most about ballet is being on stage and sharing her energy with other dancers. She believes she has danced in close to 500 Nutcracker performances over her lifetime filling a variety of positions. In Missoula this year, Anna will dance several roles including Clara’s mother, which is her favorite part, and the first that she danced when she joined this company. “That role is my special love,” she says.

In addition to Missoula, Anna and the rest of the touring ballet company will perform the "Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet" in close to 80 cities this year. They will perform almost every single day, with some cities offering two performances a day. The company will then travel to the next city, erect the intricate sets, go through one dress rehearsal to check spacing, cues, and entrances, then dance, twirl, and leap to the delight of audiences during the two-hour long ballet. The next morning, the process begins all over again.   

It sounds like quite the whirlwind but Anna says it’s her routine. She’s used to it, and she still gets something out of each performance. “Every single town is new people, new emotions, and when you see the kids smiling its brings you joy and inspiration,” she says.

The “kids” Anna is referring to are not only the children in the audience, but the children that are dancing with her and the rest of the cast on stage through Talmi Entertainment’s Dance With Us Program. The program gives young dancers from the towns at each tour stop a unique chance to rehearse and perform with professional international dancers in classic ballets. Anna says, “Working with the children is so special for us because we can share what we love with them.”

Charlene Campbell Carey, artistic director for Missoula’s Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre, is working with Talmi Entertainment to fill the children’s parts in this year’s Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet. An accomplished dancer herself, Charlene founded Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre in 1998 and has nurtured it to international prominence through the theatre’s ballet school, touring company, and the Ballet Beyond Borders Festival.

Charlene explains that from the beginning she has tried to pick themes for her company’s many original ballets that weren’t the usual, well-known productions. “Never in 25 years have we presented a large production like "The Nutcracker" or "Swan Lake" because we are a small school,” says Charlene. “Instead, we have tried to pick topics that were unique and might not be on most people’s radar, like ballets about wheat fields and salmon fly hatches.”

Charlene emphasizes that Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre is an inclusive organization and that the Ballet Beyond Borders Festival was born out of friendships that Charlene and her dancers have made around the world while touring in China, Cuba, and Italy, to name just a few. “I wanted to have a diplomatic reason behind international dancers coming here to Missoula,” says Charlene.

The children in Charlene’s ballet school have performed with Talmi Entertainment’s dance company a few times in the past when they’ve come to town for other ballets such as "Romeo and Juliette," and Charlene is thrilled to welcome them back. The collaborative performance not only serves to continue Charlene’s goal of fostering international relationships through dance, but it also gives young dancers a chance to be on stage performing a classic ballet with a diverse cast.

This year, around 25 local children ranging from 6 years old to high school seniors will perform in the "Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet." The kids will fill all the youth roles including mice, snowflakes, and children in the party scene. Charlene explains that the Missoula dance community is a nurturing one as teachers and dancers are familiar with one another and work together to fill these youth roles so that any child interested in participating in this professional production can do so.    

The children in the production are also swept up in the whirlwind that occurs on the day of the performance. They will have just one dress rehearsal with the professional dancers before the curtain rises. “You have to instantly collaborate,” says Charlene. “If a child is in the party scene, they have to instantly collaborate with a parent that doesn’t speak their language. Dance is the perfect glue for that. There’s no dialog, but you still have to trust to take their hand, whether they’re from Japan, or Kazakhstan, or wherever.”

Throwing a cast together in one day that speaks a variety of languages may at first sound like a barrier to pulling off a cohesive performance, but Anna and Charlene aren’t worried. “The language of classical ballet is international,” says Charlene. “All over the world, you start with pliés, it doesn’t matter where you are.”

“We teach each other,” says Anna. “It’s not really a question of understanding one another if you’re a ballet dancer. Ballet has united us because we speak the international language of dance.”

The Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet will be performed at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 16 at the University of Montana’s Dennison Theatre. To purchase tickets and find more information, visit nutcracker.com.

“If a child is in the party scene, they have to instantly collaborate with a parent that doesn’t speak their language. Dance is the perfect glue for that. There’s no dialog, but you still have to trust to take their hand, whether they’re from Japan, or Kazakhstan, or wherever.” - Charlene Campbell Carey

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