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BWR, YSU jazz up ‘Nutcracker’

Ballet Western Reserve’s collaboration with Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music is returning for an encore.

A Jazz Age take on the classic holiday ballet “The Nutcracker” with live musical accompaniment by the YSU Jazz Ensemble will be staged for two public performances next weekend at Stambaugh Auditorium.

BWR Artistic Director Jacquelynn Cunningham, who came up with the idea of setting the ballet in the 1920s, said last year’s production was popular with the audience and a good learning experience for the dancers.

“Just the energy from the live orchestra and giving our students at Ballet Western Reserve a chance to perform with live music,” Cunningham said. “I think it really teaches them to think quickly on their feet. Since it’s live, anything can happen. It trains their ears. Sometimes the tempo can be faster, sometimes it can be slower. They have to adjust on the spot.”

Randall Goldberg, an associate professor and director of the Dana School of Music, called it an excellent opportunity for their students as well.

The production replaces the Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky score with one featuring music by such jazz composers as Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Glenn Miller. It also incorporates characters inspired by such 1920s notables as Charlie Chaplin, Zelda Fitzgerald and Al Capone.

Cunningham added one new sequence drawing on a popular 1920s dance.

“I did a little bit of research and discovered the Lindy Hop dance craze originated in the 1920s,” she said. “We have two YSU students who will be performing the Lindy Hop during our candy cane piece. I was thinking about have some kind of swing dance involved last year as the production was going on, but it was obviously too late to do it.”

This year’s production boasts a larger cast and a few minor tweaks to smooth out the transitions between musical numbers, Cunningham said.

The cast features Emilia Aey, Megan Delaney, Ava Shapiro, Alexa Ague, Emilee Ague, Clara Barrett, Leslie Barrett, Eric Barrett, Eileen Beck, Serenity Boatwright, Adrienne Booth, Nina Boyer, Ella Buschay, Lilliana Butch, Cecilia Calko, Ava Carrabbia, Emma Carrabbia, Francesca Cisine, Kara Cook, Michael Cotton, Hazel Cunningham, Jackie Cunningham, Carina DeChant, Emily Dew, Ella Dill, Nina Dill, Ella Economos, Greg Erb, Faith Fisher, Annika Hileman, Brooklyn Hilliard, Sofia Hinkle, Blythe Hively, Kyla Hogan, Gabriella Howe, Amanda Hvizdos, Chloe Kalogerou, Caroline Knight, Emilia Kovacs, Olivia Kusky, Isabella Loccisano, Hunter Lombard,

Sydney MacDonald, Isabella Magura, Vaani Malviya, Aubrielle Markle, Lexi McCrea, Lila McCrea, Ella McGee, Lucy Merrill, Camille Miner, Lyla Morrison, Paige Nevels, Reagan Nevels, Leah Nock, Shaliah Peeples, Lucia Perry, Kennedy Pickard, Alexandra Popovich, Brielle Postell, Delana Ragan, Makenna Raphington, Allison Riddle, Addison Ring, Kyra Ryznar, David Santiago, Giuliana Sebastiani, Kellsie Shadowens, Zoe Shaffer, Tamar Sigler, Nadia Simms, Dakota Sipusic, Madelyn Sipusic, Samantha Smit, Delaney Starcher, Lily Susak, Rachel Theis, Audrey Thomas, Randi Thomas, Della Toliver, Charles Turnage, Reese Urbach, Isabella Vargas, Susie Wardle, Maria Wilson and Riley Wilson.

“The Nutcracker” opens with an 8 p.m. performance Dec. 6 (an abbreviated performance for area school children will be held in the morning) followed by a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 8. The day off in between gives the dancers some rest, but it also provides a valuable marketing tool.

“I think it gives time for the word of mouth to spread around town,” Cunningham said. “It gives those who’ve gone to the Friday performance to tell their friends about it.”

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