Delaware Dance Company presents its 30th 'The Nutcracker' this yearFeb 16, 2015 09:48AM ● By Kerigan Butt
Courtesy photo The original Rat King and the Rat King circa 2011.
By Steven Hoffman
When the Delaware Dance Company presents its 30th annual production of “The Nutcracker" in December, Sunshine Latshaw will have plenty of fond memories to reminisce about.
Latshaw was the original Clara in the Delaware Dance Company’s first production of “The Nutcracker” and she now serves as the artistic director for the Delaware Dance Company, giving her the responsibility of overseeing the production each year.
She can remember being thrilled when she was cast as Clara as a child.
“It's a young dancer's dream to play Clara,” Latshaw said. “My first performance was in 1984. I was 12 years old.”
This is the longest-running “The Nutcracker” in the state of Delaware and is a holiday tradition for many people who live in the area.
Auditions and rehearsals begin months in advance of the show and everyone involved feels a responsibility to make the show as good as it can possibly be each year.
“It's a big performance for us,” explained Latshaw. “It's one of those iconic ballet stories that people can relate to. It's a Christmas show. It's go a little bit of everything. It's important to us as an organization.”
Latshaw has been involved with all but a handful of productions when she was in college or involved with other productions. She has been the artistic director for the Delaware Dance Company for the last 14 years, so she knows the history of “The Nutcracker” at the Delaware Dance Company as well as anyone.
“It's definitely fun to see how the production has changed and evolved,” Latshaw said. “Plus, it's fun to see how it has stayed the same.”
“The Nutcracker” is a two-act ballet that features the score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky—it ranks among his most famous compositions. The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” It premiered in 1892, but gained popularity in the United States starting in the late 1960s. Many ballet companies perform “The Nutcracker” each holiday season, but it’s rare for a company to reach 30 straight shows.
“When we think about it, in this time and in this place, 30 years is really remarkable,” said Allan Carlsen, the president of the board of trustees for the Delaware Dance Company. He is an assistant professor of theatre at the University of Delaware and has played Dr. Silberhaus in “The Nutcracker” for the last 8 years.
Carlsen, whose children had roles in previous productions, said that the show is a real family affair with mothers and daughters and fathers and sons performing alongside one another.
“My daughter was Clara and my son was Fritz,” he explained. “There are a lot of stories like that—with shows involving sisters and sons and daughters.”
Mary Roth is the business manager for the Delaware Dance Company. Her involvement with “The Nutcracker” dates back to around 1995, when her two daughters, Miranda and Elaine Liu, started performing with the dance company. Their first “The Nutcracker” came three years later.
“It becomes a part of your life,” Roth said. “When my children were in “The Nutcracker” it really became a community for my children. There are a lot of rehearsals.”
“It's like a sports team or any dance company,” Latshaw said. “You spend lots of hours together and there's also a common goal. It is a family atmosphere.”
Roth explained that as children get older and get more advanced roles in the production, the rehearsal times usually decrease. Sometimes, Roth said, these older children want to spend more time rehearsing than is necessary just because they were so accustomed to longer rehearsal hours.
The Delaware Dance Company has a total of about 200 to 250 performers. There are approximately 100 cast members for “The Nutcracker.” Most of the dancers are from the Delaware Dance Company, although there are open auditions. Local professionals complete the cast. This gives students the chance to work with and learn from professionals. Performers must be at least seven years of age to try out for the production.
According to Roth, performing in the holiday classic is even a good opportunity to learn valuable life lessons.
“You might not get the part that you want,” she explained, “but if you want to dance, you can go out and dance.”
“The Nutcracker” also offers volunteer opportunities for parents.
“We strongly encourage all of our parents to be involved,” Roth said.
According to Latshaw, the involvement of the parents is essential to any production.
“I don't know what we would do without our parents,” she said. “We have parents who head up committees or help with fundraising. They really help out a lot.”
While the production features professional backdrops, the smaller set pieces are usually made by parents.
The 2013 shows will take place on Dec. 7 and 8 will once again be held at the John Dickinson High School near Wilmington. The shows are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Dec. 7 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 8.
“It’s a marvelous facility,” Roth said, noting that the production has taken place there each year since 1990 or 1991.
There are several activities planned to publicize the 30th anniversary show. Carlsen said that they will have 30 Nutcrackers that will be decorated and placed around Newark to promote the shows.
On Oct. 6, the Delaware Dance Company collaborated with the Newark Symphony on a free children's performance of “Peter and the Wolf.”
On Nov. 14, a few of the dancers from the Delaware Dance Company will be performing at the City of Newark’s Volunteer Appreciation event.
This year's shows will include some choreography from previous shows in honor of the 30 years that have passed. Latshaw also said that they have invited back some of the performers from previous years.
“Since it's our 30th anniversary, we are highlighting some of our alumni,” Latshaw said.
Two of the featured performers are Andrea Olazagasti and Hunter Raysor, both now members of the First State Ballet Theatre. Olazagasti will be portraying the Sugar Plum Fairy while Raysor will be dancing as the Cavalier. Additionally, Andrea Carlsen will be returning as the lead Spanish dancer. Five or six alumni are expected to participate with many others returning to watch the special show.
“It's a fun way to celebrate the 30th anniversary,” Latshaw said.
No matter how many times you’ve seen the Delaware Dance Company’s production of “The Nutcracker,” Roth promises that there is something new in each show.
“Our performance changes just a little bit each year,” Roth said. “There are new costumes and new sets just to keep it interesting.”
While it takes a great deal of preparation for the shows, everyone agrees that it's worth it.
“It's a lot of work,” Latshaw said. “But I have a lot of people who help me with the setting, the production, and deciding what we're going to change. When we sit back and see the performance, it's all very satisfying. It's one of the highest-quality nutcrackers in the area. I'm always so proud.”
Everyone involved likes that the Delaware Dance Company's “The Nutcracker” has grown into a holiday tradition.
“A lot of people say that it’s a beautiful thing to do with a family,” Carlsen said. “It’s a perennial favorite.”
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email [email protected].
The Delaware Dance Company presents its 30th annual production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 7 and 8 at the John Dickinson High School. Tickets are $18 to $32 for adults. Children 10 years old and younger pay $5 less per ticket. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.delawaredancecompany.org or call 302-738-2023.
Meet the performersThe Sugar Plum Team, featuring a light luncheon and a chance to meet the lead characters from the ballet will be held at noon on Dec. 7 in the John Dickinson High School cafeteria. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $10 and must be purchased in advance.