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Sandy Journal

Mountain West Ballet Celebrates 30 Years Of ‘The Nutcracker’

Nov 21, 2014 08:10AM ● By Shawna Meyer

Little girls perform as Bon Bons from Mountain West Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker last year.

This holiday season, Mountain West Ballet will celebrate its 30th anniversary of performing “The Nutcracker” by telling the familiar story again—but this time with new costumes, new choreography and new sets. Sandy residents and their families can buy tickets to see Clara, the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy dance and twirl along with the rest of the cast. 

The shows are scheduled for Dec. 12-22 at Eastmont Middle School, 10100 South 1300 East. For the most part, they will start at 7:30 p.m. However, there are two matinee shows at 2 p.m. on Dec. 13 and 20, and the show on Dec. 22 will start a little earlier at 6 p.m.

“It’s a tradition of Christmas,” Kate Johnson, Mountain West Ballet president and CFO said of their annual performance. “We do it because we serve threefold: we give dancers an opportunity to perform; we give the community affordable ballet that they can go see; and then we give opportunities for choreographers.”

Mountain West Ballet calls itself a nonprofit, semi-professional ballet company. All the people involved with making its shows successful are volunteers, including Johnson herself.

“So for me, as the president and CFO, this is my part-time/full-time, non-paying job, and we do it because we see the importance of giving this to the community. Seeing the smiles on the dancers’ faces as they go out on stage is definitely payment enough for me,” Johnson said.

The process of putting on these shows starts with the auditions, but these work a little bit differently at Mountain West. Everybody who auditions gets a part based on their skill level, as long as they have taken some sort of dance in the past. 

This means that they have very large casts. There are 350 dancers performing in “The Nutcracker” this year, and they make up three casts. They will alternate each night to put on the nine shows.

“So you can have a 6-year-old in ‘The Nutcracker’ with a college-aged dancer who is a semi-professional,” Johnson said.

This year, Stacie Riskin and Alex Waddell will alternate playing the Sugar Plum Fairy, and David Riskin will play the Sugar Plum Cavalier. Katie Finch and Hannah Bertelsen will take turns playing the Snow Queen, with Jake Fields as their Snow King. The leading role of Clara will be played by Isabella Neff, Grace McGowan-Jackson and Hailey Vick.

Johnson believes that classical ballet has a lot to teach not only the dancers themselves, but also the audiences watching the shows.

“We feel like the arts programs are a dying force, and we want to keep the arts—especially ballet—alive . . . Ballet definitely gives a sort of discipline, and it helps the brain—along with language and music—absorb that much more,” she said.

In 2008, Mountain West Ballet decided to start two outreach programs for elementary-aged students. The kids get the opportunity to learn about classical ballet and watch clips of live performances. 

“They come up on the stage, and we show them parts of the show, the behind-the-scenes like lighting and sets. We feel like we’re teaching the children and keeping the arts alive,” Johnson said.

In honor of “The Nutcracker’s” 30th anniversary, the show’s artistic directors Linda Fenton, Christy McQuaid and Masie Lancaster, as well as the show’s production director Elaina Gillespie, decided to bring back some members from the original cast.

Wallace Jackson performed in the 1984 show as a butler, and in subsequent years he was also a party parent and the Mouse King. Jackson was also on the Board of Directors for a few years. This year he will be a butler again. 

“I think it’s cool that we’re bringing back some of the original cast,” Johnson said.

Jackson enjoyed being in “The Nutcracker” so much that he brought his granddaughter Jamie Jackson, 8, to audition this year. She was cast as a Bon Bon.

“I thought that was really cool. He feels like it was a good enough nonprofit organization to bring his granddaughters into it,” Johnson said.