A holiday tradition: TJC celebrates 30 years of ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet

The Tyler Junior College Academy of Dance’s 30th anniversary presentation of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet, “The Nutcracker,” is fast approaching.

TJC Academy of Dance Director Carolyn Hanna is feeling a dizzying combination of excitement and pre-performance jitters.

“Not only is this a milestone anniversary production of ‘The Nutcracker,’ we will also be performing with the East Texas Symphony Orchestra in the stunning Cowan Center, under the direction of Maestro Richard Lee,” Hanna said.

“Our performances with ETSO only happen every five years, so we are very excited.”

Performances are on one day only, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at the Cowan Center. Tickets are on sale at TJC.edu/Nutcracker.

In addition to Hanna, choreographers are Shurrell Wiebe, director of the Pre-Professional program and professor at TJC, and Thereza Bryce-Cotes, ballet mistress of the Academy and adjunct professor at TJC.

Putting it together
Producing a large-scale ballet with live orchestra is a massive undertaking -- with intricate planning and lots of moving parts.

“We’ve actually been working on this and meeting with ETSO officials for almost two years,” she said. “There is so much organization: Do we need the complete score? Will there be any cuts? What tempos and speeds will we need? What instrumentation do they have?

“It’s been interesting to learn an entirely different side of this show and approach it from the musical standpoint. It’s also such a fantastic gift for our dancers to perform with professional live musicians. This opportunity doesn’t happen very often, so we are extremely grateful for this partnership.”

The dancers and musicians rehearse separately, only combining for joint rehearsals a few days before performance day.

“Logistically, there’s not a lot of time to work together,” Hanna said. “We will do two full rehearsals before the show. We work independently by using recordings, and the musicians come in two days prior to the show. That’s when we put it all together.”

This will be Hanna’s second time to work with ETSO Music Director and Conductor Richard Lee.

“I worked with Maestro Lee in our last concert, which was ‘Invitation to the Dance,’” she said, “and he is a fantastic person to work with, an advocate for the arts, who enjoys collaborating with other community organizations.

“I’m really thankful that he’s chosen TJC and the Academy to work with because it shows his trust in us, our artistic endeavors and our level of performance of our dancers. We feel very privileged and honored to represent TJC and to work with such talented artists and staff at ETSO.”

Lee said, “I am very much looking forward to the Nutcracker. The music is fantastic, of course, but the artistry and discipline demonstrated by these youthful dancers is the real highlight. I hope that the community comes out in droves to support them. They truly deserve it!”

Guest artists Nayara Lopes and Sterling Baca
Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancers Nayara Lopes and Sterling Baca will be guest artists for this year’s production.

“We are thrilled to have these talented performers join our dancers onstage at the Cowan Center this year,” Hanna said.

Lopes and Baca both studied at the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

Lopes has performed with the Orlando Ballet II, the National Ballet of Canada and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Baca has performed with the American Ballet Theatre and on Season 4 of “Dance212,” a popular online series that follows dancers trying to make it in New York City. He appeared in the short film, “On a Grass Field,” which won Best Short Film at the 2014 New Jersey Golden Door Film Festival.

“These two professional dancers have performed all over the world and will amaze audiences with their technique and artistry. I hope that, by bringing in such famous dancers, this will inspire our local dancers to achieve their artistic dreams." 

A return engagement for TJC dance alumni
Seven alumni from the TJC Dance Department, Academy of Dance, and those trained under Shurrell Wiebe and Thereza Bryce-Cotes have been invited to perform and showcase TJC’s professional dancers from around the country.

“These performances will highlight our amazing faculty who trained these dancers and illustrate the talent that was nurtured right here in Tyler, Texas,” Hanna said. “Our alumni, guest artists, and dancers from the community will perform together, side by side, for a spectacular performance!”

TJC Academy of Dance alumni:
• Aaron D’Eramo, full scholarship to SMU dance program
• Claire Glidwell, scholarship recipient to SMU dance program
• Michaela Hutchins, Huntsville Ballet
• Evelyn Robinson, University of North Carolina School of the Arts
• Kathryn Wallace, Alvin Ailey School in NYC

Trained by Shurrell Wiebe and Thereza Bryce-Cotes:
• Nathan Vendt, American Ballet Theatre in NYC
• Rayleigh Vendt, Oklahoma City Ballet

Hanna added, “Also, Jacob Charlebois (TJC theatre ’15), a student stage manager just four years ago, who will be our professional stage manager for the Cowan Center. He showed great promise when he was a student at TJC and has become a real talent behind the scenes in many theater productions state wide.”
 
30 years and still going strong
Asked what she sees as the magic ingredient for the TJC production’s success and longevity, Hanna doesn’t hesitate: “It’s the performers. The answer is always the performers.”
 
She said, “We can have countless hours of rehearsals and tell them what to do -- but once it’s the live show, it’s all on the dancers and musicians. They are the ones putting in the work. We wouldn't be here today without the communities' love of dance and ballet, and the enormous amount of support they have for their own kids and grandkids. This show is so successful because the East Texas community understands the thrill and excitement of live music and dance.”
 
“The Nutcracker” holds a special place in Hanna’s heart as well.
 
“My first connection to ‘The Nutcracker’ was when I was 6 years old,” she said, “so, even though I’m directing the show, I try to look at it through the youngest dancer’s point of view. It’s just so magical, and to have that connection with those young people is really special. This show continues to excite me year after year.”
 

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