“I want to be the Sugar Plum Fairy or the ballerina doll,” said a very young dancer, perhaps 7 years old, in her leotard and pink tights, watching the rehearsal of the family party scene in the first act of “The Green Mountain Nutcracker” ballet.
“I want to be the Rat King,” said the boy sitting next to her in his white top and black leggings.
Through their exchange in hushed voices, their eyes were glued to the dancers as magical Uncle Drosselmeier’s gift of dolls came to life. The two young dancers are performing this year in the ballet’s second act — but like many in the Moving Light productions, today’s mice, sheep and trees will build their skills and through the years take on new dance challenges and roles.
Next weekend, for the 12th year, Moving Light Dance Company presents “The Green Mountain Nutcracker,” a Vermont twist on Tchaikovsky’s timeless holiday ballet. The production features a 60-plus-member cast, ages 5 to 70s. Performances are at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, at the Barre Opera House.
With original choreography by Moving Light founder Christine Harris, Willow Wonder, Avi Waring, Natalie Wheeler and Vladimir Roje, “The Green Mountain Nutcracker” is set to Tchaikovsky’s score and original Vermont-grass music by Colin McCaffrey.
“The Nutcracker’s” delightful tale of a young girl and a magical Christmas gift, Tchaikovsky’s music, and its rich variety of dance have long made it not only a classic, but an exceedingly accessible production for audience members who may not identify as ballet aficionados.
Moving Light’s local twists give it a charming familiarity. The Vermont setting is downright fun. The choreography and performances by dancers from tiny sleigh-pulling moose to fluttering autumn leaves to the elegant maple fairy are lovely and show off the skill and talent of the Moving Light Company and students.
“It looks different every year,” explained Christine Harris, founder and director of Moving Light Dance School and Company in Montpelier. “We have a base. A lot of our choreography is in place, but then we shape it for the cast that we have.”
Through the years, with contributions from multiple choreographers and the dancers, “The Green Mountain Nutcracker” has formed a solid, multilayered base to build on.
“The complexity increases every year because of all these different movement choices, and as students get more proficient in ballet and contemporary techniques,” said choreographer and dancer Avi Waring.
From the beginning, Moving Light’s “The Nutcracker” has had its Vermont flavor. The family party is a cheerful Green Mountain event with guests arriving in snow boots and winter coats. After the Nutcracker’s mishap, a lively battle with rodents, and his transformation to prince, he and Marie travel by moose-drawn sleigh through Vermont forests to the Land of the Sweets. There they are entertained by loggers, shepherd and sheep, wind-tossed leaves and more.
“The Green Mountain Nutcracker” cast includes many students of Moving Light Dance.
“A lot of the students started when they were 5, and now are pretty accomplished dancers. We were working last week with the rats and I realized that some of these rats had been itty bitty mice in the beginning,” Harris said, noting the growth and proficiency of the young dancers.
The mice and moose are among the youngest in the show, with the rats the more experienced. Dancers don’t simply progress through different roles. Their ability gives the choreographers opportunities to build complexity.
“Because the dancers show proficiency and properly execute movement quickly, more time can be spent on developing aspects of the choreography including spatial formations and, timing,” Harris said. “As they’re more proficient, we can give them harder phrases. We try to give them work that’s challenging but that they can accomplish.”
The challenges are in physical and acting realms.
“It’s almost impossible for audiences to realize the amount of work that the kids put into it, to learn and to get their bodies strong. Part of the deal is to make it look easy. Athletes get to grunt and make faces — in dance we take that away. There’s no wincing for fairy queens,” Waring said.
Involvement and strengths of various dancers contribute to changes in choreography. The Shepherdess piece, for example, has a new look.
“This year we have a young man who was in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ last year,” Waring said. “He came back and was excited about it. His availability gave us the opportunity for partnering. He plays the role of a shepherd with a partner en pointe.”