‘Nutcracker’ magic comes to Clune Center Sunday

The Wilton Dance Studio’s production of The Nutcracker Ballet, now in its 18th year, is a full-scale show that features more than 80 students and adults from seven area towns including more than 40 from Wilton, plus professional sets and costumes.

This year’s production will be performed on Sunday, Dec. 6,  at 1 and 4:30 p.m. at Wilton High School’s Clune Center for the Performing Arts.

Three Wilton High School seniors dance leading roles this year: Michele Assef, Jackie Cahill and Jason Collins. Elizabeth Vermeulen, an 11-year-old from Wilton in her eighth year at the studio, plays the role of Clara this year.

Contributing extra magic to this year’s production are several dancers with special stories behind their performances. The first of these is Will Northrup, a 19-year-old developmentally challenged young man from Onsted, Mich. Brenda Froehlich, a Wilton native and artistic director of the studio that has been in Wilton for 26 years, explained how Will came to be part of the ballet this year.

“Will is friend of a friend who learned we produce our own Nutcracker every year,”  Froehlich said. “He begged his mom to get him a copy of our Nutcracker DVD. Upon receiving the copy, he watched it endlessly. When we learned of his complete and utter fascination with the ballet, we extended him an invitation to come to Connecticut to share the onstage magic that is The Nutcracker. He has been practicing the adult dances with his Michigan teacher using the DVD as their guide for the choreography, and will join our rehearsals in person the week before the show. We are delighted to help fulfill one of Will’s dancing dreams.”

The three Wilton seniors performing in this year’s show are looking forward to their last student Nutcracker performance, and to creating the dance magic the audience loves. Michele Assef, who dances several roles this year, described how she has come to appreciate different aspects of the performance over time: “What makes each Nutcracker so special is not the performance itself, but rather the months of rehearsal leading up to it. We see all the hard work that goes into the production. When I was younger, I was concerned with learning where I personally needed to be during the show. As I grew older, it gradually became my responsibility to help the younger dancers manage these things.”

Jason Collins, a senior who will perform as the Snow King, said, “The Snow King is especially important to me because this will be my first time performing as a cavalier and participating in a pas de deux. I'm enjoying having the experience of partnering, and I'm learning a lot from it.”  

Renee Cahill is the parent of senior dancer Jackie Cahill. She’s been involved as a backstage mom for The Nutcracker for 12 years. She said of her Nutcracker experience, “Unlike the ones on TV, real dance moms are a tight group of women who believe in supporting their children. It’s not all about bobby pins and tutus. It’s psychiatry, encouragement and a commitment to building a positive, healthy environment for our dancers.”

Elizabeth Vermeulen, who plays Clara this year, said of finding out she had the role: “I was very excited! I couldn’t believe that I had gotten the role. I had wanted to be Clara for a very long time. My favorite thing about The Nutcracker is the party scene. I really like all the costumes and it is fun to dance in. It’s festive and gets me excited for the holidays.”

Parents of dancers have an opportunity to share the Nutcracker magic when they perform as guests in the opening party scene. “My husband and I and both of our daughters have been in the show, and for four years we were all in the show together,” said Cindy Finnecy of Wilton. “We got involved originally because when Brenda asked our oldest daughter, Caitlyn, to be in the show, my daughter said she’d only be in it if I was. That was 16 years ago. Now our younger daughter, Kirsten, is dancing in the role of lead Spanish. It’s been fun to do something special with both of our daughters, and you get to play dress up in a beautiful costume!”  

Wilton Dance Studio welcomes the return of Peter Nevin in the role of the Nutcracker Prince. He joined Wilton Dance Studio’s teaching staff for ballet in the fall of 2014, and was a guest dancer in the Nutcracker Prince role for the studio in 2007 and 2008. Nevin began his training and performing career in 1985 with the Westchester Ballet Company. He first performed as a guest dancer for the Wichita Falls Ballet Theatre (WFBT) in 1992 and joined the company as a principal soloist in 1994. He also danced principal roles in Harem Scarum, Hi-Tek Aztec, and Tapestry, which were designed for him by choreographer Ron Cunningham of the Sacramento Ballet Company.  

The performance length is described as manageable for young children, and they are welcome. The ballet follows the traditional story of Clara and her Nutcracker prince from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  

To buy tickets, call 203-544-9007 and leave a message or order at www.wiltondance.com, click on “Nutcracker Performances,” and download and print the ticket order form. Tickets are also available at the door on the day of the show.