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On Dec. 7, students, staff, friends and family packed the Stevens Center for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts dress rehearsal of “The  Nutcracker.” Presented this year by Wells Fargo, the show runs from Wednesday, Dec. 12 until Sunday, Dec. 17 in the Stevens Center.  

According to the press release, “UNCSA’s heralded ballet has received rave reviews from critics and enthusiastic audiences alike since the reimagined production debuted in 2009 under the direction of Ethan Stiefel, former Dean of the UNCSA School of Dance and former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. ‘The Nutcracker’ will be directed by UNCSA School of Dance Assistant Dean Jared Redick and conducted by UNCSA School of Music Dean Brian Cole. Tchaikovsky’s beloved music will be performed by the UNCSA Nutcracker Orchestra.”

I have never been to a ballet, nor had I ever seen “The Nutcracker” until I went to the dress rehearsal. I left with more questions than answers when I walked out of the theatre and the one main question I had was “how did they do that?” How did students perform like world-renowned dancers? How did the children dance like they were professionals? How did they take such a beloved narrative and adapt it to showcase some of the most talented dancers in North Carolina all in around two hours? UNCSA did it again, just as they have continued to do for years: nurture and deliver the best talent the school can offer.

The student dancers of UNCSA tested their limits that night with a lively and graceful performance. Every dancer was beautifully in sync with one another so much so that the floor looked like butter that each dancer gracefully slid across. The orchestra, though not visible, was just as in sync with the dancers as they were with themselves. Together, this  The highlights of the evening were the big rats and their goofy swagger. When they debuted, they danced the “Thriller” dance and made the audience roar with laughter. When compared to the small mice, the big rats were sassier and more animated. The scene in which the Nutcracker and the Rat King faceoff, was probably the most artistic scene of the whole ballet. The use of multi-colored lights flashing with the multi-colored match and button shields that the big rats carried made the whole fight scene extra dramatic and very trippy. The dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was probably the most memorable of the evening. That and the scene that followed were wonderfully executed and looked the most composed out of all the dances. Paired with the accompaniment of the pit orchestra, this scene for me, was the most striking.

UNCSA’s employee in human resources department, Kemora Brownlee and her 9-year-old daughter Victoria Brownlee both were first-timers to both “The Nutcracker” and UNCSA’s performance of “The Nutcracker.” Kemora Brownlee said that everyone she works with raves about seeing the students perform “The Nutcracker.” Kemora Brownlee said she will definitely return next year.

“I loved it,” Victoria Brownlee said. “Cause when the mouse king acts like he dies, that was the funniest part. Just seeing it all, in general, made me so happy.”

According to the press release, this year, UNCSA’s “The Nutcracker” will showcase guest dancers Yuan Yuan Tan as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Jaime Garcia Castilla as the Cavalier Prince for two performances only: 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and Dec. 14.

“One of the most thrilling aspects of UNCSA’s annual production of ‘The Nutcracker’ is the tradition of bringing world-class guest artists to our stage to perform alongside our extraordinarily talented students,” states UNCSA Chief Marketing Officer Katharine Laidlaw in the press release. “Yuan Yuan and Jaime have performed in ‘The Nutcracker’ numerous times as principal dancers, and they will be bringing incredible technique and artistry here to Winston-Salem.”

The dean of Dance Susan Jaffe said in the press release that the guest dancers not only “captivate and electrify” the audiences, but they also “inspire and teach” the students of UNCSA. “Tan is often heralded as the best dancer of her generation,” Jaffe said in the press release. “The opportunity to watch and work with professionals of this caliber is invaluable.”

Tickets are available at the Stevens Center box office, by phone at 336-721-1945, or online at uncsa.edu/nutcracker.

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