FALMOUTH – What does it take to handle the role of Clara, the steady young heroine of the ballet, “The Nutcracker”?
“Clara needs to light up the stage and be larger than life with her acting personality and face.”
— Laura Sciortino, artistic director of Turning Pointe Dance Studio
Laura Sciortino, artistic director of Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth, puts on a version of the ballet every other year using her dance students and professional dancers. She said she begins thinking about which of her dancers will play the critical role of Clara in the spring, more than seven months before the show.
This year, “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” is being performed November 26 and 27 at the Tilden Art Center at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker,” has a Cape Cod twist. The story was, which was written by Chatham author Anne LeClaire, transports the story to these shores and adds some references from Cape Cod folklore.
Sciortino said, when thinking about casting Clara she needs to consider several things. “First, are they technically strong enough? Then, do they have lots of personality for the stage? Clara needs to light up the stage and be larger than life with her acting personality and face. I need to use a dancer who is extremely expressive and who won’t get lost amongst the cast,” she said.
Sciortino said she remembers when she first played the role of Clara as a 12-year-old dancer. “My favorite Clara moment is when she first receives the Nutcracker doll as a gift from the salty sea captain. Every time that nutcracker was pulled out, it was like the first time. It sets the scenario for the entire ballet.”
Beyond the qualities of personality, the role of Clara requires a steadiness that mirrors the character herself.
Sciortino said that quality is critical. “Lastly, but maybe most importantly, is this dancer dedicated? Will she be able to attend all rehearsals? And will she be able to handle the pressure of the technically difficult and very intricate pas de deux in the snow scene with the professional male dancer that plays the Young Sea Captain?”
In this year’s production, the young sea captain is played by Matt Van, who comes from New York to Cape Cod for only one day to rehearse.
“So when deciding on a Clara I need to choose someone that I know will pick up the choreography quickly, apply corrections, take notes, and practice on her own,” Sciortino said.
This year, there are two dancers playing Clara. Monica Welchman, 13, from South Yarmouth, will play the role in both afternoon performances. Eloise Mills, 14, of Falmouth, will play the role for the Saturday night performance.
Monica, who has been dancing since she was seven years old, comes from a family of dancers. Her sisters Maddie, 17 and Meaghan, 19, are both dancers who have performed in “Nutcracker.” Monica was the understudy for Clara in the last Turning Pointe production in 2014. She said she first learned she would be Clara from her father who saw the posting of the cast. “I started crying; I was so happy to be Clara,” Monica said.
She said a challenge of the role—but a challenge she enjoys—is the acting aspect of it. “Having to tell the story and immediately draw the audience into the story,” she said.
As for Eloise, she has been dancing since she was four years old. She also heard the news that she would be Clara from her father, and, like Monica, that news brought her to tears. It is a role she has always wanted to play.
“I instantly started crying, I was so shocked,” she said. Eloise said she enjoys sharing the role with Monica because they are good friends.
Eloise, who also enjoys playing the piano and drawing, said she hopes to become a professional dancer and have a studio some day, like Sciortino. “I want to become a dance teacher and choreographer,” she said.
Both Monica and Eloise said their favorite number in the piece is the pas de deux, which they perform with the professional dancer from New York.
Eloise said she is honored to be playing the role. “It was a dream when I was little. Now that it’s coming true, it’s really exciting,” she said.
Sciortino praised both of her Claras. “Both Monica and Eloise are very hard-working dancers. They have perfect attendance, are very responsible, have very clean strong ballet technique, and are very expressive on stage,” she said.
But, just as two principal ballerinas in a professional companies can be very different, so are Monica and Eloise, she said, in describing the two dancers.
“Monica brings strength and technique to the stage. She has a confident way of movement. She travels well and jumps high or in ballet terms ‘has great balone’ or she is balloon-like,” Sciortino said.
“Eloise has lovely technique. Her long legs and supple ballerina feet create gorgeous lines. She plays a bit more naïve or tender Clara. Both girls have the sweetest smiles. The two different personalities both make each performance magical in her own way,” Sciortino said. She added, “I think this might be the best show yet.”
“The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” is being performed at the Tilden Arts Center at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable on November 26 and 27. For tickets, go to turningpointedancestudio.org.
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