Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet (MMB), based in Madison since 1992, opens its 29th season on December 4 and 5 with the holiday favorite “The Nutcracker,” featuring a cast of over 150 local dancers and guest artists from Ballet Memphis. Attending a performance of the ballet at Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center is an annual tradition for many in the metro area. In addition to witnessing the exciting choreography, sparkling costumes, beautiful sets, and artistic feats of the production, patrons will have the opportunity to begin a new tradition this year as MMB introduces its Land of Sweets.
The Nutcracker” follows the story of Clara as she attends her family’s Christmas party, where she receives the gift of a nutcracker from the mysterious and magical Herr Drosselmeyer. After the party, Clara’s nutcracker comes to life, battles the evil Mouse King, and takes Clara on a magical journey. Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are awed by the Snow Queen and her corps of Snowflakes in the snowy forest before meeting the Sugarplum Fairy in the land of sweets. There Clara and the Nutcracker Prince enjoy dances or divertissements from around the world presented for their entertainment.
Following the 2 p.m. matinee performances of MMB’s “The Nutcracker,” patrons may step into Clara's slippers and travel to the Land of Sweets. In this immersive experience, guests will have their personal passports stamped as they visit Clara, the Snow Queen, the Dewdrop, the Sugarplum Fairy, and other characters from the ballet. Travel stops will offer character photo opportunities and souvenirs including a miniature nutcracker. The afternoon’s activities will be capped with “Spanish'' hot cocoa and light refreshments from Nothing Bundt Cakes. “The Land of Sweets is sure to please ballet fans of all ages, especially aspiring young dancers. The opportunity for a personal encounter with the dancers seen on stage and an up-close look at the beautiful costumes is not to be missed!” says MMB Guild president Christine Bridges.
Emily Garner of Madison will dance the role of Clara this season. Emily is a senior MMB company member and a freshman at Rosa Scott High School. She is the daughter of Elizabeth and Andy Clark and Adams Garner.
MMB principal dancer Madeline Page of Madison will dance a number of roles including the Snow Queen and Dewdrop Fairy. Page is a senior at Jackson Prep and the daughter of Audrey and Jeremy Page.
Artistic director Jennifer Beasley notes, “As in professional companies, many of the roles in the production, such as the Snow Queen, Dewdrop Fairy, and divertissement leads are split cast. A split cast means that more than one dancer performs the role over the course of the production. We have so many strong dancers among our principals, soloists, and senior company members. Challenging each dancer with new, varied, and appropriately-difficult choreography helps them develop their artistry and technique. Our four performances over the course of Nutcracker weekend will give them all an opportunity to shine.”
Sharing the role of Snow Queen with Page is Hallie Young. Young is an MMB soloist and a senior at Northwest Rankin High School. Page shares the role of Dewdrop Fairy with fellow principal dancer Brelyn Binkley. Binkley attends Northwest Rankin High School and is a junior. Young and Binkley also split the role of Mirliton lead.
Other soloists and senior company members in the cast are Annalee LeDuff, Hart Maley, Sydney Sanders, Rebecca Trowbridge, Southern Callahan, Brooke Carter, Mari Finseth, Grace Gardner, Sophia Huang, Amelia McCaughan, and Emma Raush all of Madison County, and Eleanora Ellis, Laurel Larsen and Annalyse Binkley of Rankin County.
Joining the local cast are Cecily Khuner, Oscar Fernandez, Joey Dlearo, and Dominiq Luckie of Ballet Memphis. Khuner and Fernandez will dance the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. Dlearo will appear as the Nutcracker Prince, and Luckie will perform the role of Snow King.
Cecily Khuner began her dance training at Berkeley Ballet Theater and then attended San Francisco Ballet School. She joined Ballet Memphis in 2010. Her favorite works/roles with the company include Juliet in Steven McMahon’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Sugar Plum and Dew Drop in “Nutcracker,” George Balanchine’s “Square Dance,” Trey McIntyre’s “The Reassuring Effects of Form and Poetry,” Matthew Neenan’s “Water of the Flowery Mill,” Julia Adam’s “Devil’s Fruit,” Gabrielle Lamb’s “Manifold,” and Helena in Mark Godden’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Cecily is a National YoungArts Foundation award winner for ballet.
Oscar Fernandez is from the village of Santillana del Mar of the state of Cantabria, in the North of Spain. He trained in classical, contemporary, and Flamenco dance at the Real Conservatoire of Dance Maremma in Madrid before joining San Francisco Ballet School on scholarship. He joined Ballet San Jose as a Corp member in 2014 where he performed in George Balanchine's “Theme and Variations,” Ben Stevenson’s “Cinderella” and Ohad Naharin's “Minus 16” among others. He joined Ballet Memphis in 2016 and performed in Steven McMahon productions, including Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” and the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” Cavalier in “Nutcracker,” as well as Spanish, Russian and Arabian. Oscar also has performed in George Balanchine's “Square Dance,” Reggie Wilson's “I Am a Man,” Matthew Neenan's “Water of the Flowery Mill,” and Mark Godden's “Midsummer Night's Dream.” Oscar teaches Adult Ballet and Latin Dance in the Ballet Memphis School.
Performances of MMB’s “The Nutcracker” will be at 2 and 7 p.m. on December 4 and 5 at Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center. Tickets for the performance are $30-$35. Land of Sweets tickets are $25 and are sold separately. Both are available at msmetroballet.com or by calling 601-853- 4508.
An honor company member of Regional Dance America, MMB is a pre-professional, nonprofit ballet company based in Madison. Members of the company and the cast of “The Nutcracker'' are selected by audition from the students of Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy, with locations in Madison and Brandon. Supporters of MMB’s 29th season include the Mississippi Arts Commission; Gertrude C. Ford Foundation; Jackson Optimist Club; Ergon; Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi; Eventful; Harper, Rains, Knight and Co.; Hilton Garden Inn Jackson-Madison; Larry and Michael Johnson Family Foundation; and The Pig & Pint. For more information on MMB or MMDA, visit www.msmetroballet.com and follow us on Instagram @msmetroballet and @msmetrodance.