By GWEN OREL
Visions of sugar plums dancing.
Many children would recognize the phrase, which comes from Clement Clarke Moore’s 1837 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”)
Child dancers know who the Sugar Plum Fairy is: the ballerina who dances in the Land of Sweets in “The Nutcracker.”
Music from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” can be heard everywhere this time of year: it’s in car commercials, it’s playing in supermarkets, and of course it’s at the mall.
And you can hear the music in Montclair, at the library, and at the university, next weekend. (Full info below).
‘THE HOLIDAYS GET STRESSFUL’
Library Assistant Director Janet Torsney said that the Nutcracker Day at the library will be “something fun, easy for people to do to celebrate. The holidays get stressful!” During an afternoon screening of the film, children can run around and dance, Torsney said. The evening show will be more grown up. Families can also get food and drink at discounts at three local businesses during the day, she said: “People can park the car, go out to enjoy Montclair, and come back to the library again.”
Torsney is excited that 13-year-old Ella Simons will demonstrate dance and talk about the show.
In the Simons home, the Glenfield middle-schooler had set up a “Nutcracker” display on the dining room hutch, complete with a storybook with the original tale by E.T.A. Hoffman, and Tchaikovsky playing on an iPad. She wore a Nutcracker shirt, a Nutcracker hoodie, and Nutcracker socks.
The ballet “gets me in the holiday spirit,” she said with a smile. “The music is fun and playful. The costumes are amazing. They are fun to wear and to look at.”
Ella will tell the story of the ballet: how young Clara, at a Christmas party in Germany in the 19th century, receives a
wooden soldier Nutcracker as a Christmas present from Uncle Drosselmeyer, how she falls asleep on the couch, and how the toys come alive. The Nutcracker wins a battle with the mouse king — and is turned into a prince. Clara and the prince fly to the Land of Sweets.
She will share interesting “Nutcracker” facts: the costume for Mother Ginger, a character in Balanchine’s version, weighs 85 pounds, is 9 feet across, and takes three people to lift, she said.
It’s not her first talk: two years ago Ella gave a talk on the “unsung heroines of American history” at the library, to raise money to build a Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C.
Ella, who enjoys historical fiction, said she was shocked there wasn’t a museum for Women’s History already. For her 12th birthday, Ella held a party to raise money for the museum and netted $800.
Her mother said proudly that Ella is also a straight-A student, a counselor at Montclair Farm Camp, and an Essex Youth
Ella interrupted, “Mama, can you please…”
At the library, Ella will also perform a little bit. Becoming a dancer is definitely what she wants to do: she was offered a place in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school already, which is a feeder school for American Ballet Theatre. Ella has completed two summer intensive programs there. The logistics were too hard right now, her mother explained. But it’s something the family will explore in high school. Ella wants to take advantage of her youth and limberness, and could always attend college later.
Her mother said that “colleges love former ballet dancers. They are very disciplined.”
Ella began dancing at Mommy and Me, then continued at Hillside School. She began taking ballet at Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts at age 9, and still takes classes there, as well as at Verona Ballet.
After her talk, a trio from the Cali School — Robert Radliff on violin, Aurora Mendez on violin, and Paul Vanderwal on cello — will perform music inspired by Tchaikovsky.
Simons recently performed in the Verona Ballet but didn’t have a large role, due to a knee injury during the pre-professional training session at American Ballet Theatre this past summer. She’d like to play Clara, but hasn’t yet.
VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS
New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble Artistic Director and “Nutcracker” choreographer Nancy Turano never played Clara. “It’s a dream of everybody,” Turano said. “As I got older, I got soloist roles in Marzipan, and Toy Soldier. I always say to my students, ‘I was never Clara, but I went on to travel the world and have a wonderful career.”
Turano studied at NJDTE when it was the New Jersey Dance Theatre Guild, as a girl, and studied there from 1972 to 1981.
She took over the company in 1994.
NJDTE will present “The Nutcracker” at Montclair State University on Saturday the 9th and on Sunday the 10th. It’s the third time the Summit-based company has performed at MSU.
While all productions of “The Nutcracker” use children, NJDTE prides itself on using 55 to 60 young dancers, with only a handful of adult principals. “It’s wonderful for dancers to get to dance so much,” Turano said. Samantha Grace Wolf, 12, of Union, will play Clara. Wolf said in an email to Turano that she’s excited to be in the Act 1 party scene, “as I need to both act and learn to perform new ballet technique.”
NJDTE focuses on contemporary training, Turano said. That makes doing “The Nutcracker” even more important: “If students don’t perform classic work, and don’t physically do it, that history will disappear.”
Young children dreaming of being dancers still dream about tutus, a vision from the 19th century, she said. Performing in “The Nutcracker” is meaningful. Turano remembers performing with international stars and that seeing them “raised the bar in my mind about what a dancer can do.”
WHY IT ENDURES
“It literally is magical,” Torsney said. She always thought the uncle was a little creepy, but the “dances are so different, whether Sugar Plum, or Snowflake. There’s battling. The Nutcracker comes alive. The mice are dancing.”
Dance itself is a “level of expression in the human body that touches people,” Turano said. However, Turano added with a laugh, “The Nutcracker” doesn’t endure in Europe the way it does in America. “Here, it’s become synonymous with the holiday season. People that don’t see dance will go once a year to see one thing. They can bring their children too, smile, laugh and enjoy it,” she said.
The ballet endures for the same reasons loves it, Ella said: it’s fun, playful, and “not an ordinary ballet.” The second act showcases different dance styles and music. She loves wearing tutu with sparkles in the Big Waltz.
Someday, Ella wants to be the Sugar Plum Fairy.
A sugar plum, if you’re wondering, isn’t a plum that’s been sugared but, according to Wikipedia, something like a hard candy.
For dancers and dance enthusiasts, it’s the sweet taste of magic.
‘Nutcracker Day’ at the Montclair Public Library
Friday, Dec. 8
11 a.m.: dress-up story time for kids.
Make a costume, dance, hear a story.
3:30 p.m.: screening of “The Nutcracker,” George Balanchine version, with Justin Peck and Megan Fairchild.
5 p.m.: young dancer Ella Simons will talk about and demonstrate dances from “The Nutcracker.”
6 p.m.: The Montclair Trio, from the Cali School at MSU, will perform classical music inspired by Tchaikovsky
7 p.m.: Encore screening of “The Nutcracker”
Between 4 and 6 p.m.:
• Villalobos Mexican Restaurant, 6 South Fullerton Ave., special dinner(Salad, appetizer, two tacos or churros, under $30)
• Amanti Vino, 30 Church St., offers free wine tasting and discounts on purchases with Nutcracker coupons (30 Church Street, 973.509.9463).
• Le Petit Parisien, 10 Church St., dessert and coffee specials
Register at montclairlibrary.org or call 973-744-0500.
All events are free.
New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble
Saturday, Dec. 9, 1 and 5 p.m.
Post-performance “Behind the Scenes” with VIP pass after 1 p.m. performance
Sunday, Dec. 10, 2 p.m.
New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble
Choreographed by Nancy Turano
Memorial Auditorium, Montclair State University
1 Normal Ave.