University City

Third-grader to dance ‘Nutcracker’ at Charlotte’s Belk Theater

While most third-graders are worrying whether they’ve been good enough for Santa Claus to slip down their chimneys with a sack full of toys, Lola Mayo is concerned whether or not she’ll have enough time to change from a mouse into an angel.

“Snow and Wind come after mice, so I should,” she said.

This month, Mayo, 9, a third-grader at Highland Mill Montessori School, will perform two roles in the North Carolina Dance Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker.” She’ll be a mouse battling gingerbread soldiers in the first act and a dancing angel in the second act.

Performances are scheduled through Dec. 22 at the Belk Theater on North Tryon Street.

The dual roles will require a costume change that could take almost as much fancy footwork as the dance steps in her routines.

Mayo will have only a few minutes to change from her mouse costume, a bulky hoop ensemble with a heavy mouse head, into a winged angel wearing a white robe with ringlets of golden hair.

“That’s probably the hardest part,” Mayo said of the wardrobe change. She’ll make the transformation while dancers who play Wind and Snow perform onstage.

“It’s a fat and hot costume,” she said of the mouse getup. “It’s easier to move in the angel one.”

Lola Mayo technically began dancing at age 3. But her mother, Kati Hanlon Mayo, is a dance instructor at the North Carolina Dance Theatre; she laced her own ballet slippers right up until she delivered her daughter.

“I was in my mother’s stomach when she was dancing,” Lola Mayo said.

More than 100 other children auditioned for roles in the production, but Mayo believes her 3-year-old brother gave her the edge she needed to win a mouse role.

“You had to do part of the mouse step, which was jumping over people,” she said of the skills evaluated during auditions. “I practiced at home with my little brother. He’d hunch down, and I’d jump over him.”

A little method acting didn’t hurt, either.

“I had to think like a mouse and run around,” said Mayo, who drew the line at eating cheese. She doesn’t share the rodent’s taste for it.

In the dance studio on North Tryon, Mayo crouched down and curled her hands into paws. She scurried across the wood floor, then stopped, stretched and yawned – like the most graceful of mice. Then she sprang up again and scampered away.

It’s a role perfectly suited for a kid, Mayo said: “I like how they do all the jumping and running. You have to be more jumpy, like a kid.”

While her schoolmates will most likely be riding their bikes or making the latest rubber-band jewelry over the next few days, Mayo and the other dancers will be hard at work onstage. They’ll spend their “take-five” breaks chattering about their leader, the Mouse King, and going back and forth as to whether he got what he deserved – a whack in the head from a slipper thrown during the battle with the Nutcracker.

“Sometimes we feel bad for the Mouse King,” said Mayo. “But most of the time we don’t, because he shouldn’t have died on us. He should have tried harder.”