To the audience, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s “Nutcracker” is a fantastical sequence of dreams, where Clara is transported to the Land of Snow and the Land of Sweets. To many dancers, being cast in the show is the first step in their dreams of professional careers in dance.
Kathryn Moriarty is the children’s rehearsal coordinator for more than 100 young performers who’ll join professional dancers of N.C. Dance Theatre and NCDT 2 in this year’s production. Moriarty says Clara “is a difficult role. We try to be very selective; she has to have a lot of potential as a young dancer. Most of these girls who have done the role have gone on to do extremely good work.”
The list of former Claras who have ascended in the ballet ranks is impressive. Ellen Hummel, who premiered the role in Bonnefoux’s 2006 version, is in the corps de ballet of San Francisco Ballet. Three former NCDT Claras – Hannah Maloney from 2010, Blake Johnston and Samantha Teves from 2011 – are students in the upper level of San Francisco Ballet School.
Ellie Frith, who played Clara in 2008, dances in the upper level of Houston Ballet’s school. Jasmine Perry and Phoebe Klett, who played Clara in 2008 and 2012, respectively, study at the School of American Ballet in New York. Kira Greer-Rice, who danced Clara in 2009 and 2010, is an NCDT company apprentice, while 2012’s Clara Caitrin Murphy is a trainee at NCDT.
Silas Farley, who shared the role of the Nutcracker Prince with David Morse, is now a member of New York City Ballet's corps de ballet. Morse, meanwhile, dances professionally with NCDT.
Sometimes the trend goes full circle. Courtney Wright Stewart trained at NCDT before dancing with San Francisco Ballet for 13 years. Now she teaches at NCDT; this year, she’ll dance the Sugar Plum Fairy in Salisbury performances of Piedmont Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker.”
Training at NCDT’s School of Dance begins in the Preparatory Division and culminates in an audition for acceptance to the Pre-Professional Division, where dancers are apprentices or trainees. Apprentices receive full-tuition scholarships and are the first to be called to NCDT rehearsals. Trainees also have the opportunity to work with NCDT and the School of Dance’s Repertory Ensemble.
Morse, 21, began in a boys’ scholarship class here at 11 and progressed from upper-level classes to NCDT 2 at 16. In 2006, Bonnefoux created the role of the Nutcracker Prince for Morse and Farley to share.
“It was one of the first times I had the opportunity to work with Jean-Pierre, and it was really special,” says Morse. “There’s no personal agenda, just a room (full) of people working toward the betterment of the art form. It’s almost intoxicating to be in that environment, and it was a real turning point to where I am now.”
Morse credits the excitement of being in Bonnefoux’s re-imagination of “The Nutcracker” for the later success of many of those cast that year. “For all of us, it was the first time we had been part of the creation of something so big,” he says.
Moriarty is thrilled for her former students: “I feel they are like little birds leaving my nest. We get close to our dancers, we spend a lot of time together, and we watch them grow up. They come home for Christmas and show up backstage. It’s exciting and wonderful that they want to keep in touch.”