“Nobody expects to be part of such a large show, such a glamorous show,” said Lesa Dusich, founder of the Reno Dance Company (RDC) and artistic director of the local production of the annual winter ballet. “It gets them excited to stay in dance, train harder ... It inspires them to want to do more next year.”
Dusich was referring to the young dancers performing in the show, which is the first production of such a scale in any of their young careers. RDC will employ the talents of more than 65 dance students and another 20 or so youth from the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sister in the production, which runs this weekend and next at John Ascuaga’s Nugget.
Many of the young people — even the dance students — have never even seen “The Nutcracker,” Dusich said.
“It’s a brand new experience for them,” she said. “They have no idea what they’re in for.”
As part of the company’s decade-long challenge to “raise the barre” on its productions, RDC is offering five performances this year — more than any previous year — and will feature a cast composed of a multicultural mix of expertly trained local dancers and professionals. Among the most notable casting selections is that of 16-year-old Shalani Taylor to play the lead role of Clara, the little girl whose magical dream takes her and her Nutcracker Prince into the Land of Sweets.
Shalani, a sophomore at Reed High School, is the company’s first African American to play the role of Clara. She has studied under Dusich’s tutelage since age 5, and has been the beneficiary of the company’s scholarship program. Shalani said performing the lead role in “The Nutcracker” is every bit the undertaking that Dusich said it is.
“A lot more,” she said. “You have to be more dedicated, more serious. When I come to class it’s not so much playing around anymore.”
Though Shalani has performed for audiences many times in her young life and she understudied the role of Clara last year, she expects a lot more nerves for this weekend’s performances because so many friends and family will be there watching.
“I’m going to have people there for me,” she said.
Whatever praise viewers might give her, Shalani gives a lot of the credit to her partner, RCD co-director and principal dancer Christopher Wrede, who will return to the show for the 10th time bringing his expertise and experience to the role of the Nutcracker Prince. Wrede, a dance instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno, also is a 2010 Nevada Arts Council Artist Fellowship Recipient.
“It’s harder because we make it harder,” Wrede said about the show’s ever-increasing difficulty. “Each year we redo the choreography to make it more challenging. We up the technique and difficulty level each year so as dancers progress and get more talented we have to add more tricks and things for them.”
Wrede also is the expert tailor who has been making and repairing the “Nutcracker” costumes for the past seven years.
Each year, Wrede starts work in the middle of summer on nearly 300 costumes that will create the ballet’s magical characters. Hand-sewing is a large part of the task, he said, with lots of sequins and rhinestones creating the outfits’ sparkle and shine.
“Building tutus is the most complex,” he said. “It takes me about 60 hours apiece. There’s about 10 layers of tulle, starting from about half an inch and it goes up to 10 inches. It has to be all hand-pleated.”
Other dancers in the production include Pedro Rangel, a Carson City native who received training through RDC and whose professional credits include European performances of “Brilliance”; Danielle Pearson, a performer with the Peninsula Ballet; and Heather Costella, who recently returned from studying dance at Fordham University in New York, and summer training in the 2011 American Ballet Theatre college program. Pearson and Costella will share the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. Dancing the role of Snow Queen is Danielle Reinhardt, a recent performer in the SandCastle Saipan Company and part of the Young Americans European Tour.
With performances that span the globe, Dusich also brings an impressive resume of experiences, including the Boston School of Ballet, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and the Broadway Dance Center in New York City, to RDC.
“Most of us remember ‘The Nutcracker’ as our first introduction to dance or live theater, and that sense of warmth and magic that we remember stays with us our whole lives. It completely enthralls us, at any age,” Dusich said. “It’s our hope that these five traditional performances of ‘The Nutcracker,’ taking place just before Christmas, at the height of the season, becomes a holiday tradition for families. We truly believe this show is the last word in ‘Nutcracker’ performances.”
Performances of “The Nutcracker” will take place in the Celebrity Showroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. on Dec. 23 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 24. Ticket prices range from $19.95 to $34.95. Dinner and show packages are available. Tickets can be purchased at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in person, by phone at 800-648-1177 or online at www.janugget.com.
For information about Reno Dance Company, call 378-6208.