Friday, December 12, 2008

Nuts!

This great photo (credit to Bob Nick of the Silverman Group) will run in our local papers next week. It features all of the Oak Park and River Forest kids performing with the Joffrey this holiday season! Finn is easy to spot and Emma is second from the right in the back row.
Read the fantastic article below from the Chicago Sun Times about these amazing children!!

They play the mice, the little toy soldiers, the fanciful dolls, the white-robed snow tree angels, and the well-dressed (and mostly well-mannered) children who come under the spell of Drosselmeyer, that magic-making visitor who casts a spell over a grand Christmas eve house party in Victorian era America. And without them, the Joffrey Ballet's version of "The Nutcracker" wouldn't be half as beguiling.

After all, this is a ballet about childhood, as well as about how one young girl leaves a bit of childhood behind. "The Nutcracker" also is an unofficial "introduction to ballet" for the army of children who make their way to the Auditorium Theatre each year under the auspices of parents and grandparents. And there is nothing quite like seeing your peers getting a great deal of stage time.
The young "Nutcracker" dancers who carry out a slew of complicated tasks never fail to impress with their discipline and charm, and with their ability to execute some very tricky and demanding choreography. Much of the credit for their polish goes to Carla Graham-White, who has been in charge of auditioning, teaching and generally managing the children's component of the Joffrey's annual production here since the mid 1990s.

"This season we've got 122 children, with two full casts and a partial third cast for the little dolls," said Graham-White, who taught for years at the Oak Park Academy of Movement and Music. "There were so many strong candidates, and we like to give as many kids as possible an opportunity. About 70 of the 122 are veterans of the production, but I teach everything from scratch because generally the veterans move into new roles. Of the 122, only 10 are boys, so I choose the girls with high energy to play boys. Some of them love this, but some decide they don't want to be involved at all because of this casting."

What does she look for in her young charges?
"Good dancers, of course, but just as important is to find kids who look like they really enjoy dancing. If they smile during the audition, it's a good bet they will do so in performance. In a sense I'm looking for mini-Joffrey dancers -- people who can communicate with the audience. And Ashley Wheater [the Joffrey's artistic director], is very keen on them being natural, and letting their own personalities shine through."

Rehearsals are intense, running all day Saturday and Sunday for eight weeks. But Graham-White keeps each segment under two hours to maintain focus.

"These are very attentive, very sharp kids, and most have considerable training," said Graham-White. "But the music is not easy. In most ballet classes things are counted in beats of four and eight, but here they must deal with counts of five and seven and nine and 12. "
The young performers also have very little time to adapt to the stage environment.
"They do a single run-through with the full company in the studio," said Graham-White. "And then each cast has just a single chance to work on the Auditorium stage."

"They know when it's for play and when it's for real," said Patti Ackerman, a mother from North Riverside. Her daughter Rachel, now 14, spent several years in the production before deciding not to return, but her 10-year-old, Madeline, is now in her third year, and will be one of the Party Girls whose choreography involves quite challenging partnering in a reel.
"It's funny, because Madeline is my shy daughter, but when she's up on that stage there is nothing shy about her," said Ackerman.

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