BARNSTABLE – Isabelle Edgar remembers the first time she performed in “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker.”
The year was 2006 and she was five years old.
Isabelle is one of the teenagers in this year’s production who have been performing in the show since they were very young children. Their parts have changed as their dance skills have improved. In many ways, they have grown up in the show.
“I remember watching all the big girls and Laura on stage and being in awe of their dancing,” she said.
The “Laura” that Isabelle refers to is Laura Sciortino of Bourne, the Artistic Director of Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth who has produced the classical ballet “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” every other year for the past decade.
The ballet uses the classic Nutcracker story and the beloved Tchaikovsky score but gives it a Cape Cod sea-faring twist.
This year’s performances are Saturday, November 29 at 6 p.m. and Sunday, November 30 at 1 p.m. at the Tilden Arts Center at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable.
Isabelle is now 13 and an eighth grader at the Lawrence School in Falmouth. Her sister Maddie performed the lead, Clara, in the show in 2008. Over the years, Isabelle has played a mermaid, a Chinese girl, a girl in the party scene, as well as a starfish, seagrass and Clara’s friend.
Laura Sciortino took on “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” production after it was originally conceived and choreographed by Catherine Batcheller and Joseph Cipolla. Every year, she said, she alters some of the choreography, matching it to certain dancers and, in general, making it more challenging.
Casting the show, which includes dozens of dance students who take classes at Turning Pointe, plus professional dancers that Sciortino knows and people from the community, is, she said, “so exciting but also a nightmare. I lose sleep over it.”
Of the girls who have been in it for many years, she said it has been fun to watch them grow up and get better every year.
Because the ballet has such a variety of dances, characters and scenes, many have gotten to play multiple roles over the years.
One advanced dancer, Fiona Hopewell of East Falmouth, played the lead role, Clara, two years in a row, once in flat ballet slippers and the second time “en pointe,” or in pointe shoes, a much more challenging style.
Because she was the lead, she did not have the opportunity the other girls have had to play multiple roles. So this year, Sciortino cast her in multiple parts. Fiona is in the corps of ice and wind, sandpipers, Spanish corps, and Beach Rose.
“I wanted to see her in everything,” Sciortino said.
For Fiona, who is 17 and a junior at Falmouth High School, this will be her fifth and final year performing in “Sea Captain’s Nutcracker.”
“It is bittersweet,” she said.
She has been dancing since she was 3 years old and first performed in “Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” in 2006.
Over the years, both her sister, who majors in ballet in college, and her brother were also in the production.
The first time Fiona played Clara, she was 11 and it was a thrill. The sea captain was played by a professional dancer from Providence Ballet and Fiona got to skip a day of school for one of the rehearsals.
“That was super fun,” she said.
Her favorite moment in the show, and one that other dancers also mentioned, is when snow falls down from the sky for the classical ballet of the ice and wind corps. “It’s pretty magical,” she said.
She said all the girls who have been performing in “Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” for many years have memorized the dialogue of the part of “Old Clara,” the elderly woman who tells the story as a flashback.
She hinted that this might not be her final year in the ballet.
“I’ll probably come back and play Old Clara because I know the part,” she said, with a laugh.
Another dancer who has been performing in the show since the 2006 performance is Annie Lawrence of Waquoit, who is now 16 and a junior at Sturgis East Charter Public School in Hyannis.
She has been taking dance classes since age 2 1/2.
Her first year in “Sea Captain’s Nutcracker,” she played a mouse and a young girl at the party. This year, she will be in the ice and wind corps, as well as the Russian dance.
Having studied dance for 14 of her 16 years, Annie says it is a big part of her life.
“It’s very important. It keeps me healthy and active and good things like that,” she said.
After years of dance classes and rehearsals, studying movement and honing her skills, she said her favorite part of ballet is performing. After performing in “Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” four times, just hearing the famous Tchaikovsky Nutcracker score has an impact.
“It makes me happy when I hear it,” she said. “There are lots of good memories.”
Over the years, she has played 15 different parts in the production, from a tiny mouse when she was six years old, to a sailor, starfish, mermaid, and Russian, among other parts.
Those early years in the production, she said, were both “fun and scary”—a feeling that adds up to excitement.
She remembers watching the older girls dance and thinking, “I hope I get that part next year.”
Her favorite part was as a starfish. “I loved that dance,” she said.
For another advanced dancer, Pai-Lin Hunnibell of West Falmouth, 18, and a senior at Falmouth Academy, this will be her fourth and final year in the show after performing in it three times since she was 10 years old.
She remembers liking her first year in the show when she played a little girl in the party scene, a mermaid, a zephyr and an Arabian attendant, particularly because one of the costumes was purple, her favorite color.
“I was really excited. It was such a big production. We spent weeks rehearsing until 8 or 9 o’clock at night. It was kind of fun to be around the older girls and professional dancers. To be in that environment was really exciting to me,” she said.
Her second year in the production, she played a starfish and the ballerina doll—“that was a really pretty tutu,” she said.
This year, she will perform in dances as a beach rose, sandpiper, Arabian and Spanish dancer.
The beach rose and Arabian solos that Pai-Lin will be performing are particularly special.
The Arabian dance is not danced en pointe and has a mysterious aura. “I always wanted to do it and looked up to those who did,” she said.
In the beach rose solo, on the other hand, Pai-Lin will be in classical ballerina garb with pointe shoes and tutu. She called the dance, which is one of the production’s finales, “light and happy.”
Another dancer who started performing in “Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” at a very young age is Celia Grace Lacey of Hatchville, who is now a 13-year-old at Lawrence School.
Her first year in the show she played both a mouse and a pearl, which are the roles that go to the youngest children, the ones Sciortino calls, “the babies.”
Ceilia Grace remembers those early years fondly. “I love dancing in the show and being with all my friends in rehearsal and watching the older girls en pointe,” Celia Grace said.
Now she dances en pointe and at a recent rehearsal, her wide smile was the biggest clue to how she feels about dance.
Over the years in the Nutcracker production, Celia Grace has played numerous parts involving lots of costume changes. Her favorite part was playing one of the mooncussers, a role that involves an elaborate fight sequence.
One year, her costume change had to be so fast, she had to do a quick change in the wings instead of the dressing room, adding an extra excitement to that year’s performance. “It felt special,” she said.
Angelina Dvorak of Woods Hole, 13, has also been performing in “Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” since she was a young child.
She started taking dance classes at age 3 and first performed in “Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” at age 5.
She played a mouse. “I was really excited. I was the one that jumped,” she said.
Now she looks at the young girls in wonder. “They’re so small!” she said.
She remembers how she felt at that age in the show. “I was always scared of the big kids,” she said.
She said, over the years as her dancing skills improve, she has more insight into her performance. “You definitely know what you’re doing wrong,” she said. But that has a silver lining. “You can always get better.”
Years Go By
Sciortino said that watching her dance students grow up over the years as they perform can be emotional.
She said during a recent rehearsal, she looked over to see four of her youngest students, who will play mice in this weekend’s production, sitting together.
“I could envision them eight years down the road when they will big girls. Where does the time go?” she said.
– Laura M. Reckford