Every year students of the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet work diligently to prepare for the production of Piotyr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker."
More than 50 area youth ranging from 6 to 23 years old will appear during the performances set for Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday 2 p.m. at the Reg Lenna Civic Center. The students will be joined by members of the community, guest artists and New York City Ballet artists Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht.
According to Elizabeth Bush, CRYB executive director, this is always an exciting time for area children who work hard all year long preparing for this production.
Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet students practice for this year’s production of Piotyr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.”
"It's very rewarding when you finally get to do a big production like this," said Bush. "It's a massive production that takes over the month of November and December. It's exciting, fulfilling and it's great to see young, local kids excelling because nobody goes out on stage looking mediocre."
The CRYB students are under the artistic direction of Monika Alch, who has been with the CRYB for 12 years.
"This community is very lucky to have Monika Alch here directing the school," said Bush. "Monika danced professionally in Vienna, Europe, from when she was a young child. She thought she'd retire to the area, but now she's running the program. She's brought the quality and artistry of classical dance to the community. People are just amazed when they see her productions."
Alch is excited about this year's show, which is her 13th production of "Nutcracker," because several alumni are returning for performances in addition to the many new, talented students who have taken on roles. Alch said she is thrilled to give young area dancers an opportunity to take the stage with world-renowned artists.
"We have a couple of new little ones who I'm going to push upwards," said Alch. "And, I'm pretty pleased with how practice is going. So, now we just hope for a good audience."
Megan Stefanik, 12, of South Dayton, will dance the role of Clara during the Friday and Saturday shows.
"I'm looking forward to having all my family being able to watch me because last year when I was Clara's understudy only my friends from school got to see it," said Stefanik. "Everyone works their hardest and puts their all into it, and we never really try to not do our best. You can be a little nervous being backstage, but once you get out there it all goes away. You focus on dancing, and you get lost in the moment."
Emily Mager, 14, of Frewsburg, will play Clara during the school show on Friday morning. The school show is held specifically for students from area schools.
"I'm really looking forward to playing Clara," said Mager. "I've wanted to do this for a really long time now, and I've worked really hard, so I really appreciate this opportunity."
Clara's brother, Fritz, will be danced by Liam Pickreign, 13, of Fredonia.
"I'm looking forward to another great year and dancing because I love to dance," said Pickreign. "I have four roles, Fritz, the Soldier Doll, a soldier and a Russian. The Soldier Doll solo is a new role for me."
During both the school and public performances Grace McMillan, Harlequin Doll; and Maya Swanson, Ballerina Doll, will be hidden within the doll box during the party scene. The two girls said they are very excited because they get in the box backstage, and it gets pushed out onto stage like a big present.
"I'm excited that I'm doing a solo for the first time, that I get new costumes and I always wanted to be in the box," said McMillan. "I like ballet because you can express your body and feelings with dance."
"I like learning the new stuff, all the dances and my costume," said Swanson. "I just like coming out of the big box."
Shawn Sprankle will also emerge from the box as the Soldier Doll during the public performance, and Pickreign will appear from the box as the Soldier Doll during the school show.
Madeline Jones will dance the Sugar Plum Fairy during the Friday school show and the Dew Drop Fairy during the public shows.
The CRYB is a nonprofit organization that provides classical ballet instruction to youth from Chautauqua County and the surrounding areas. According to Bush, in addition to ballet being a healthy activity that forms positive lifelong habits, the CRYB also gives children access to the direction of Alch. If Alch was not here, she said, ballet students would have to drive to Buffalo or Erie to get classical training.
"The study of dance is really a wonderful thing because it gives you self-discipline, a sense of grace, an appreciation for the arts and fine music," said Bush.
CRYB students will take the stage with the professional dancers during the public performances. Tickets start at $12 for children and range up to $25 for adult loge seating. The tickets may be purchased through the box office of the Reg Lenna Civic Center at 484-7070. For more information or to order tickets online visit www.cryb.net.