An Enhanced Production: The Nutcracker

By Alex Goodreau


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., November 7, 2016—A clustering energy radiates from the back corner of the building, the location of an expansive dance studio.  A masterfully-composed Tchaikovsky melody resounds throughout the space and then drifts, softer, into the lobby. Inside, nearly 100 ballet dancers chat as they warm their bodies in preparation for the rehearsal ahead.


Being November, the staff and dancers at West Michigan Youth Ballet (WMYB) have but one thing on their mind: The Nutcracker.  With the premiere less than a month away, it has become crunch time for those involved in retelling the classic holiday story of Clara and her Nutcracker.  The implementation of newly choreographed sections, custom costume design and rehearsing with professional dancers has allowed WMYB to exceed the production level of the average dance studio.


“Producing a Nutcracker that has the power to emotionally affect an audience is not simple…nor should it be,” says Artistic Director Stephen Sanford.  “The work and time dedicated by our staff and dancers translates into a marvelous performance that contributes to the enrichment of our community and our students.”  Sanford, who danced professionally at Grand Rapids Ballet for 14 seasons, has directed the artistic vision of WMYB for the last two years.  His arrival was the catalyst for new choreography throughout the production, including Battle Scene, Flower Scene and Snow Pas de Deux (a duet between advanced students and former principal at Dayton Ballet Justin Koertgen). Jakob Pringle, a freelance ballet professional, will also guest with the company as the Prince.


Though these improvements may seem primarily audience-driven, one must consider the dancers as well.  Four senior dancers, each of them performing the role of Sugarplum Fairy in a different performance, spoke about the upcoming shows with pride.  “I’m dancing the part I’ve always wanted—the one I’ve always watched in amazement,” says Jessica Henry, a performer in the studio’s last eight Nutcrackers.  “It’s special—the ultimate role.” The girls have danced the majority of the parts throughout the years and will perform up to six different parts over the course of the performance weekend.


During these performances, the dancers will be dressed in costumes recently designed and created by Heather Cassady.  Her designs include rose-colored romantic tutus for Flower Scene, an eclectic mix of formal wear for Party Scene and cerulean bodices for Snow Scene.  The organization is collaborating with another designer for the creation of a head for the Mouseking. This piece will remain unseen until the show—I tried to convince them to show me for the sake of the article (to no avail).










Cassady’s costumes for Flower Scene


West Michigan Youth Ballet presents The Nutcracker Ballet on Saturday, December 3 at 1:00 and 4:30pm and Sunday, December 4 at 1:00pm at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center.  There will be a Nutcracker Tea session at 11:30 before each show, which includes light refreshments and a chance to meet Clara!  The organization will also perform at Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts on December 18 at 2:00pm.


Forest Hills/Nutcracker Tea Tickets:

Frauenthal Center Tickets: