"the nutcracker ballet"
by Audrey Hanes, photo by Amy Long
The Nutcracker Ballet has been a Christmas tradition in the city of Jonesboro for more than 20 years, but the show’s ever-changing cast of young dancers, who continue to grow and progress with each passing year, give the ballet new life each holiday season.
Each year, the community heads to The Forum Theater in droves for the show’s nine performances, and each year, more than 100 talented dancers and enthusiasts of the arts spend months preparing to captivate their audiences with a winter wonderland full of regal queens, marching soldiers, an ethereal Sugar Plum Fairy and dainty dancing snowflakes.
LeeAnn Knierim has played a role in Jonesboro’s Nutcracker Ballet every year since being cast as a soldier when she was 8 years old. This year, Knierim, now 26, is directing the Foundation of Arts’ end-of-season show for the second year in a row, and she is proud to uphold the traditions that the classic production is known for.
“’The Nutcracker Ballet’ is a tradition for me personally simply because it has been a part of my life for so long,” said Knierim, a dance teacher for The Foundation of Arts and for the Jonesboro Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School. “Every year, I look forward to spending time with the dancers and their families, too. The weekend the show opens is what really puts me in the Christmas spirit. There is so much sharing and caring and doing for others that I am truly reminded what this season is about.”
After working together year after year on a production that they are incredibly passionate about, the cast and crew of the ballet form a bond that is like no other. Many of the cast members who land their first role as young children and who continue to be a part of the production for many years afterwards essentially grow up being a part of “The Nutcracker Ballet.”
“My favorite part of directing the shows is getting to spend so much time with the dancers and their families,” said Knierim. “It’s like I have an entire second family at The Foundation.
“When dancers start training at a young age, it leaves them plenty of time to grow as dancers. Every year, students learn more and earn more advanced parts than they had the year before. The longer you stick with it, the better chance you have of becoming the Sugar Plum Fairy, which is every little ballerina’s dream. The girls who dance well into their teen years have such a committed heart and sense of accomplishment. Landing a lead role in the ballet is something most girls work and train for from the time they are very young until they are 16 or 17 years old.”
Knierim, who landed the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy when she was a junior in high school, knows firsthand how hard the ballet’s leading ladies have worked to land their roles this year. Hannah Mason, Megan Dacus, Sophie Jackson, Kaylee LaPiro, Savannah Strickland, Sydney Driscoll, Ariana Brown and Claire Williams are eight young women who have made the transition from tiny snowflakes and little angels to prime roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara and other highly regarded leading parts. Many of them first participated when they were as young as 6 years old, and each year, they took on more complicated and complex roles. They have been a part of the seasonal performance for as long as they can remember, and they are as passionate about wowing the crowd as they are about dancing.
Jonesboro’s Nutcracker Ballet is an opportunity for the community to experience theater and dance in a way that they might not get to do otherwise, which Knierim says is one of the things she enjoys most about all of the hard work that she and the rest of the cast put in.
“The production is done as close as possible to the many productions of The Nutcracker done all over the world by well-known ballet companies, and our community gets to experience it right here in Jonesboro,” she said.
“‘The Nutcracker Ballet’ brings a sense of tradition to our community. Families come together and some even make it a yearly event in preparation for the Christmas holiday. I believe The Nutcracker is an important tradition because it gives children and their families the opportunity to experience the stage. It prepares the children for hard work and responsibility, as well as understanding and dedication.”
The Foundation of Arts will present “The Nutcracker Ballet” at The Forum Theater on Dec. 3, 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. Tickets available at foajonesboro.org, at The Forum Theater Box Office or by calling 935-2726.