'Nutcracker' rehearsal

Students of the Studio of Classical Dance Arts rehearse for their annual production of "The Story of the Nutcracker" Saturday afternoon, Nov. 30, 2013. The production will be staged at the University of Wisconsin's "Rita" on Dec. 14-15. / Gregory Shaver gregory.shaver@journaltimes.com 

They have danced on stages from Chicago to New York to Europe. And on Dec. 14 and 15, they will come to southeastern Wisconsin to bring the characters of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier to life on stage in “The Story of the Nutcracker” at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside’s Main Stage Theatre.

Allison Walsh and Richard Villaverde are this year’s guest artists in the Studio of Classical Dance Arts’ annual holiday production, which also features more than 80 students of the Studio — a professional ballet school located at 2745 Chicory Road, Mount Pleasant.

Together the dancers will tell the classic Christmas story of a little girl and her magical Nutcracker Prince, set to the music of Tchaikovsky. It is a story that Marc Darling and Linda Bennett — directors of the Studio who both danced professionally with the Milwaukee Ballet — love to tell. And this year’s production, which is the Studio’s eighth, looks to be the best yet, they said.

“Every year it gets better and better,” Bennett said.

Land of fantasy

Both she and Darling are especially excited to be able to bring Villaverde and Walsh here to work with their students. Last year was the first time professional guest artists performed in “The Story of the Nutcracker” and the experience was such a positive one for all, that the directors feel fortunate to be able to do it again.

In addition to their time on stage, the 2012 guest artists spent time talking with the kids and were very gracious about signing autographs on everything from backpacks to ballet shoes, Bennett said. Students also had the opportunity to be in the audience for the professionals’ rehearsal, and ask them questions afterward — an experience that the directors said was not only valuable to the students as dancers, but because it allowed them to see that even professionals are “just people,” like them.

Last year was also the first time the directors made it “snow” on stage — a special effect that “takes you right into the land of fantasy,” Darling said. “It was magical.”

When their students saw the snow falling for the first time during a dress rehearsal, “The look on their faces was priceless,” Bennett said.

An adventure

The snow will return this year, as will another production favorite — a cannon that fires cheese. There will also be some minor changes in the show, as its directors work to enhance and polish each year’s performance. And as their students’ level of training increases and they grow stronger, Darling and Bennett are able to challenge them a little more each time around.

“Some of our first angels are now soloists,” Darling said, referring to the cast, which ranges in age from 6 to 18.

The entire production is a labor of love for Darling and Bennett, who devote themselves to every detail of it for many months. After eight years and countless hours of teaching, staging, creating costumes, props and so much more, both said they are still “absolutely” having fun creating “The Story of the Nutcracker.”

“We love what we do,” Darling said. “This is not a job, it’s an adventure.”


If You Go

WHAT: “The Story of the Nutcracker,” by The Studio of Classical Dance Arts

WHEN: 1:30 and 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15.

WHERE: Main Stage Theatre at The Rita Tallent Picken Regional Center for Arts and Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, 900 Wood Road, Somers

COST: Tickets cost $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 12 and younger. They are available online at www.classicaldancearts.com; at the Studio, 2745 Chicory Road (box office open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and at the theater door (subject to availability).

INFO: Go to www.classicaldancearts.com or call (262) 633-4450.


Guest Artists

Allison Walsh

Originally from Bethesda, Md., Allison Walsh began her career in the Washington Ballet Studio Company and went on to dance with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago for seven years. While there, Walsh performed leading roles in Nijinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” Ashton’s “Cinderella,” and Joffrey’s “Nutcracker,” as well as works by Lar Lubovitch, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Jerome Robbins and more.

She has also danced with Philadelphia’s BalletX, performed at the White House, and is featured in the documentary “The Joffrey Ballet: American Mavericks of Dance.” Walsh is currently working with Christopher Wheeldon on his new Broadway musical “An American in Paris.”

Richard Villaverde

Richard Villaverde began dancing at age 13 and was awarded a full ride scholarship to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In 2011, the Florida native was selected to study abroad in Venice, where he trained with some of the best contemporary artists in Europe.

He has also been awarded numerous scholarships to the American Ballet Theater summer intensive program, where he trained with Franco DeVita, Nancy Raffa, Melissa Allen Bowman and Ethan Brown. Villaverde is currently starting his second season with BalletX, Philadelphia’s premier contemporary ballet company.

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