The Nutcracker Ballet returns to Ames this weekend

The Nutcracker Ballet, a performance brought on by local talent and students debuted on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 13 and 14. The Nutcracker Ballet tells the story of a young girl, a heroic prince and the dream they share from a small toy introducing a fascinating world of dance and magic. The ballet held auditions to find local talent as well as promoting professionals to critique and train the local youth.

Melissa Garrett

With the classic tale of a young girl, Clara, and a heroic prince, Clara’s fantastic dream and toys come to life on the Stephens Auditorium stage to enchant its audience this weekend.

After 34 years of being locally-produced, the Ames Nutcracker Ballet features dancers from central Iowa and the Ames area and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous score in this holiday masterpiece.

Playing an adult party guest, Lisa Banitt, OB-GYN physician in Ames, will perform in the Ames Nutcracker Ballet for the 12th time. She has also been involved intermittently since the first show in 1981. Banitt has played various roles over the years, like Snow Queen in her junior and senior years of high school, and she was a rag doll in her first performance of The Nutcracker Ballet.

“I was 11 [years old] for the first Nutcracker, and now you have to be six to be able to audition,” Banitt said. “There are kids now that if they did [The Nutcracker] every year, starting when they were six, they might be in it for 12 years if they did it all the way up until they graduated high school.”

Banitt has performed in the past four of five Nutcracker productions in Ames and looks forward to seeing or being in the ballet every year with her family. This year, Banitt’s three daughters will share the stage with her.

“It’s such an institution in the community, [since] you’re a part of the fabric of Ames at Christmas time,” Banitt said. “If you’re from the Ames community, chances are you’re going to see someone you know in it.”

With a cast of more than 200 people, several volunteers and parents help coordinate The Nutcracker Ballet like Janice Baker, ISU senior dance faculty assistant professor, who is the ballet mistress for the party scene and fight scene in Act I.

Baker helps with auditions, resets the ballet in beginning rehearsals and makes accommodations for current actors, as well as teaching the dances every year.

“The choreography sort of stays the same, so sometimes if the kids have been in it a couple of times they already know what they’re doing,” Baker said. “Some of the new ones [struggle], but we get them to where they will have a pleasant experience on the stage. That’s what we want.”

Baker said the cast for The Nutcracker Ballet is different every year, and changing one person affects the entire dynamic of the ballet.

“For the first act, it’s very simple, [but] it has to be engaging. Everybody needs to want to be a part of that party, [and] the characters have to be likable because if you don’t like Clara, that’s not a good thing,” Baker said. “Just because you’ve done it before doesn’t mean it’s all going to fall together the same way.”

Movements and facial expressions are everything in a ballet performance, since dialogue is nonexistent in traditional ballets.

“In the first act you’re telling the story basically by pantomiming to the music and conveying what’s going on by how you’re reacting,” Banitt said. “Being a dancer, [it’s] more comfortable to [act by pantomiming] than to be on the stage using my voice. When you listen to [Tchaikovsky’s] music with the story, it fits the story and what’s going on. I think the music really tells the story.”

The Nutcracker offers many roles for children age six and older, with adults ranging to their 50s and 60s playing Party Guest roles.

“It’s kind of neat because if you are able to basically ballroom dance and do some acting, you can be a party guest,” Banitt said.

The Nutcracker Ballet welcomes professional principal dancers Joy Voelker Matossian, originally from Ames, and Matthew Prescott in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, in addition to many talented Ames performers.

Baker said Matossian has come back to Ames to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy several times with different partners as her Cavalier, with this year marking the fifth time Matossian will play the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“There have been local dancers who have come forward and have done those [bigger] roles, and advanced dancers have done the Snow Queen and King from the [Ames] area,” Baker said. “There is quite a big variety of what is happening on the stage, so if you don’t like one you’ll probably like the next one. The [music] and story is timeless.”

For those who have never seen the Ames Nutcracker Ballet, Banitt said everyone owes it to themselves to see The Nutcracker in the Christmas season.

“Everyone who dances around Ames or central Iowa [looks] forward to [The Nutcracker] so much every year, and you can’t ignore the fact that it’s staged at CY Stephens [Auditorium], which is an amazing theater and stage to get to perform at,” Banitt said.

Baker said the cast has become “a big Nutcracker family” over the years, and she enjoys seeing local dancers have the opportunity to shine every year.

“It’s a wonderful venue for children for their first full-length show—lots of action, the music changes, and there’s plenty to keep them involved, where a [less] action-packed ballet would be hard. It’s also the first ballet that many people get their performing roles in,” Baker said. “[The Nutcracker] is not just here, it’s everywhere.”

The Ames Nutcracker Ballet comes to Stephens Auditorium on Dec. 13 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Dec. 14 at 1:30 p.m.

Tickets for the show are available through Ticketmaster and are also available for purchase at the Stephens Auditorium ticket office from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for ISU students.