The Nutcracker: Holiday Classic Keeps Dancers On Their Toes
Nothing quite captures the imagination of a child at Christmas-time like a live performance of “The Nutcracker.” This timeless masterpiece is by far the most often performed and most beloved ballet of all time. In addition, the musical orchestrations by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky are arguably some of the most famous symphonic compositions known to the world.
Each December the Dance Center of Kirkwood performs the complete production of “The Nutcracker,” featuring a large cast of 55 incredibly talented dancers who also happen to be teenagers.
At the helm of this annual production is Kathy Massot, director and choreographer, and the owner of the Dance Center of Kirkwood. As a youngster she enrolled in dance classes and became fascinated with ballet, which soon led to her dancing with the St. Louis Civic Ballet.
After high school, Kathy went on to study at the National Academy of Arts in Champaign, Illinois, and performed in their company, the National Ballet of Illinois. A few years later, she made the big leap to New York City where she danced for 11 years with the Leon Faulder Dance Company and the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. During her time as a professional dancer, Kathy performed in countless productions all over the United States and Europe.
Like professional athletes, the physical demands on a dancer take their toll and most are forced to retire at an early age due to injuries. Kathy decided she wanted to stop dancing professionally before an injury caused her to miss a performance, and recalls “I felt like I had accomplished everything that I had wanted to accomplish and I felt satisfied. So I thought, it’s a good time to come back home. I always knew when I was done dancing that I was going to come back home. I was home-sick all of the time!”
Upon return to St. Louis, Kathy began teaching at the Dance Center of Kirkwood, and in 1999 bought the studio from the previous owner. It was at that point that she decided to produce her own version of “The Nutcracker” each year with her own students. She relays, “when I was a kid and a dancer, doing ‘The Nutcracker’ gave me such great memories, so I wanted that for my students. They work really hard, but we also have fun.”
The two hour production is filled with fantastic costumes, colorful props, brilliant scenery, snow and, most importantly, a very large troupe of accomplished ballet dancers. The principal dancers in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier are Miss Chiao Shih, a teacher at the Dance Center, and Dustin Crumbaugh from the Big Muddy Dance Company. Jonathan White will play the role of Herr Drosselmeyer. The role of Clara will be played by Juliette Schulte and Emma Sandidge, with each girl dancing the lead in two of the four shows.
Kathy discloses, “it’s really cool because (the students) graduate from part to part. As they get better, get more advanced, they get into those tougher roles so they have goals for themselves. They start out probably in one of the younger parts and every year just work their way up the ladder. By the time you’re done, you’ve pretty much done the whole show and every part in it.”
Conjointly, Kathy is the director of the Dance Concert Society of Kirkwood, a non-profit group that takes short performances of “The Nutcracker” into nursing homes and other facilities for the elderly and disadvantaged. Kathy advises, “We like to provide the community with good quality dance. We like to reach out to Assisted Living and Nursing Homes to get out and tell a story of dance.” She adds, “It’s wonderful to talk to people that live there afterwards. Many of them danced as children and it’s a great way to help brighten their day.”
The Dance Center teaches year-round classes in ballet, tap, modern and jazz. “We teach dancing, but we try to teach other things too,” asserts Kathy. “We try to teach comradery and anti-bullying. We only dress our students appropriately, we only let them dance to music that is appropriate for a child. The movement, the costume … everything. It’s just for kids, not kids trying to look like adults. That’s important to us. (Our studio) is a safe place for kids.”
She continues, “It’s a great place for them to build confidence, even if they don’t turn out to be a professional dancer, they build confidence, and develop friendships. They learn how to work and be responsible, show up for class, learn their dance and pull their own weight.”
Other public performances for the students throughout the year include recitals, competitions and participation in National Dance Week. In January the group has been invited to perform with a few other companies at the Grandel Theatre in a fundraiser to collect food for people in need.
The Dance Center of Kirkwood is currently enrolling and is eager to get more kids and adults interested and involved in dancing. “We have summer camps now,” says Kathy, “from the ages of three and through every age group, as well as the older kids who have a week of dance intensives for tap, jazz and modern.”
Continuing, she points out, “Little kids will do camps that may encompass several disciplines like tap, ballet and jazz all in one. For the little people we do a lot of fun camps that do crafts, a “Frozen” camp, and I do a Nutcracker camp every summer for kindergarteners through 2nd grade, it’s a week-long camp. They make their own sets, learn the dances, work with props and make lots of Nutcracker crafts. It’s really fun. They are the choreographer, set designer, they do all of that. I try to teach them everything involved and help them think it through.”
Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held at the Robert Reim Theatre on Saturday & Sunday, December 16-17, with shows at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. The group will also perform a preview of the second act at the Saint Louis Art Museum on December 9th, at 1:15 pm in the Main Hall.
For more information, visit www.dancecenterkirkwood.com.