By Jan Mercker for Loudoun Now
If you can’t get into the Christmas spirit without Tchaikovsky’s familiar strains, this is your year. For the first time ever, Loudoun has three full-scale productions of “The Nutcracker,” all on the same weekend.
It’s a boon for dancers and dance lovers but also a source of some confusion for arts enthusiasts—and a few dance grandparents—as holiday showcases roll around.
This year, Loudoun School of Ballet owner Cherie Maroni launched the Loudoun Ballet Performing Arts Company as a new feeder company for the school, which ended its longtime relationship with the independent Loudoun Ballet Company. This month, LBPAC performs its first ever Nutcracker, while LBC presents its 28th rendition of the holiday classic, with a mix of new and returning dancers and more professional star power than ever.
Meanwhile, the community service-oriented Ballet Theatre of Ashburn also takes things up a notch, bringing in a pair of professional dancers from Utah’s Ballet West.
And while company leaders are a little concerned about oversaturating the market on a single weekend, they agree there’s room in Loudoun’s blossoming cultural scene for more performances, and the new company offers a new option west of Rt. 15.
“I felt that I could provide the continued tradition of excellence for these kids at the ballet school and form a not-for-profit that’s an official feeder for the Loudoun School of Ballet,” Maroni said.
Her goal is to carry over some traditions, with LBC alumni like artistic director Maureen Miller and the professional dancer Norbert Nirewicz, familiar to Loudoun audiences from LBC productions. Nirewicz returns as the Cavalier in the new production. But Maroni is excited about fresh twists including new costumes and new sets designed by area artisans.
The LBPAC performances are double and triple cast for the main female roles to allow talented pre-professional dancers to shine. This year, audiences can catch a number of talented dancers from the Loudoun School of Ballet, including 15-year-old Olivia DiPerna, the cast’s youngest Sugar Plum Fairy.
“She’s very quiet and unassuming, but she’s one who’s just come out and blossomed and has done a remarkable job,” Maroni said. “Sometimes the kids who don’t expect it are the ones that rise above.”
Maroni made the decision to hold performances at Purcellville’s Loudoun Valley High School, while other companies have traditionally held performances in the Ashburn or Dulles areas.
“The area is growing so much so I think there’s a need for it,” Maroni said. “‘The Nutcracker’ is such a family event, and Purcellville is such a family-oriented community, I thought it would be great to have it out here.”
Meanwhile, the longstanding LBC has launched a new partnership with Ashburn’s Studio Bleu for rehearsal space as it looks to evolve into a more regional company, sourcing dancers from five DC-area studios, including the Kirov Academy and Studio Bleu, as its closes in on 30 years of performances.
“It’s a great holiday tradition. It kind of rounds out the season,” said LBC President Mark Nachajski.
This year, the company hired pros Adrienne Canterna and Kenny Corrigan, who performed on Fox TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” to bring star power to roles of Arabian Prince and Princess, while leaving other starring roles to the company’s pre-professional dancers.
While some former LBC dancers have moved to the new company, a number of senior dancers have remained with LBC for their final performances, including Ellie Bryn and Lindsey Griffin, who alternate the roles of Dew Drop, Petit Four, and Snowflake, and Sugar Plum Fairy Anna Huffman.
In an exciting development in a region where pre-professional male dancers are hard to come by, Nachajski said, the company has its own male dancer, Garrett Glatz, performing as the Nutcracker. And while LBC’s new acting artistic director Troy Brown not only brings fresh ideas to the show’s choreography, Nachajski said, he also takes the stage in the role of Clara’s mysterious uncle Drosselmeyer.
The Ballet Theatre of Ashburn, the performance company attached to the Ashburn Academy of Dance, has also ramped up its performance with professional dancers, while continuing to bring an element of community service to its shows. The company, which started out performing in nursing homes and community centers before presenting its first full-scale production several years ago, will bring in dancers Jeremy Power and Brigitte Edwards from Ballet West in the roles of Sugar Plum and Cavalier.
“We wanted to bring another professional level to our performance,” said Katie Beliveau, co-owner of Ashburn Academy of Dance.
But community service aspect remains a big part of the company’s mission, and dancers will visit three area nursing homes for mini-performances on Dec. 9, a week before the company’s full performances at Dominion High School on Dec. 16.
“Our motto is making great dancers, making great people. We spend a lot of time getting these kids involved in the community and really realizing what dance is about,” Belliveau said. “I think it’s a huge statement for this time of year—everybody’s rushing around for the holidays and bustling and these dancers are taking the time and dedicating a full day to go and make that difference.”