November 26, 2018

Butler Ballet's The Nutcracker

A MOTHER AND HER CHILDREN  Mother Ginger and her children (the Polichinelles) perform during a scene from Butler Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” This year, four IPS elementary students have roles in the holiday production, which kicks off Thursday, November 27, at Clowes Memorial Hall.

When the curtain rises on opening night of Butler Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 29, four IPS elementary students will be among those dancing in the university’s iconic, holiday production.

  • Miriam Heger, a 6-year-old kindergarten student at Center for Inquiry School 70, plays one of the tiny angels.
  • Clifford Huehls, 9, a fourth-grader at George Washington Carver School 87, is a party boy.
  • Adriana Reel, 10, a fifth-grader at Center for Inquiry School 2, is a Polichinelle.
  • Makenzi Swindle, 12, a sixth-grader at George Washington Carver School 87, is a Polichinelle.

Both Miriam and Makenzi are novices in the university’s iconic retelling of the popular ballet, while Clifford and Adriana have been in several productions.

“This is the only ‘Nutcracker’ I’ve been in,” said Adriana, who has been dancing for eight years. “It’s pretty fun because you get to watch people that are trying to become professional dancers. It’s cool to be there because you kind of see something that can be a possibility when you’re older.”

Butler’s version of “The Nutcracker” is a more traditional retelling of the story based on “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” by E.T.A. Hoffmann.

Set to the enchanting music of Tchaikovsky, the story focuses on a young girl named Clara who receives a nutcracker as a gift only for it to be broken by her brother during the family Christmas party. Later that night, after Clara falls asleep, she goes on a magical dream through a land filled with candy, fighting mice, a prince, a sugar plum fairy and a snow queen.

“Our ‘Nutcracker’ has the most lavish costumes and scenery and all of the pyrotechnics. It has that magic that goes, ‘Poof’ and the canon that goes ‘Boom,’” said Larry Attaway, chair of Butler’s dance department, while using his hands for effect.

Having local community dance students performing alongside Butler dancers adds to the magic, but it’s not a new concept.

“Since the first Butler Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker,’ the university has used community students in its production,” said Attaway. “We’ve always drawn from local studios, even though those studios have shifted a little bit over the years.”

Students don’t receive preferential treatment. In fact, Attaway said during the audition process held each September — they know which dance studios the students attend but not their academic schools. And competition is fierce as anywhere from 80 to 100 young students participate during the audition.

All of the IPS students admitted to feeling both excited and nervous during this year’s audition — regardless of whether it was their first or fourth time.

For Makenzi, it’s a second chance to be a production she loves. During the past two years, she has performed in her dance studio’s version of “The Nutcracker” (as a mouse and a soldier, respectively) but didn’t get a role during this year’s audition.

Makenzi Swindle

“I was very excited (about Butler’s audition) because I was given a second chance to be in a ‘Nutcracker,’” said Makenzi, who ultimately wants the role of a Russian girl. “I auditioned for the tumbling part and the ballet part (for the Polichinelle), and I got the ballet part. … It’s a really cool experience and the fact that I get to experience two different kinds of ‘Nutcrackers,’ that’s really cool.”

At the ballet studio where Miriam trains, she said you have to be 9 years old to even audition. Butler didn’t have that same age limitation, which was great for Miriam, who loves to dance and perform.

She’s the youngest cast member. “It feels really good because I got a special role because I’m lifted a lot,” said Miriam, who’s dream roles in “The Nutcracker” are Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Miriam Heger

“She has a solo part in the tiny angel performance where she gets picked up and carried at the end of their piece,” said Miriam’s dad, Loren. “I think it’s a great experience for Miriam. It’s another step for her in ballet. It’s great for her to dance with some really strong young dancers, and collegiate dancers, and an opportunity for her to be in front of a big audience.

Clifford has spent the past three years as a party boy, a role he loves.

“It’s fun,” he said. “I love dancing and my favorite scene is the trumpets.” 

Clifford Huehls

Being in a production with other IPS students is also fun for Clifford, who started taking ballet as a toddler to help with his coordination — according to his dad — and ultimately fell in love with the art form.

Overall, Clifford said he gets excited before going on stage, but also a little nervous. However, the rush of adrenaline outweighs everything.

“What I love most about ballet and dance is performing on stage,” said Clifford, who will have lots of family and friends attending “The Nutcracker.” 

Adriana has been a mouse for two years and is on her second year as a Polichinelle, a little child (or clown). She enjoys the Polichinelle role better “because there wasn’t really much dancing as a mouse; it was more acting, so you’re just trying to be an animal. As a Polichinelle, you’re a real person and you have a family, so you actually play a kid and it’s easier to relate to.”

Adrianna’s dream role is party girl. “I like that role better than any other role, including Clara, because you get to be your own person throughout the whole production.”

Adriana Reel

Having community students in Butler’s “Nutcracker” is twofold.

It gives Attaway a chance to see the new talent coming through, which he says they try to nurture each year.

“We’ve expanded the children’s roles on occasion – adding more children to the party scene because it’s a spot where we can, and we have some leeway in the number of tiny angels that we use,” he said. “(But) we have some limitations in the Divertissement in Act II, because we only have (a certain) number of those costumes.”

Children also bring a different element to the performances.

“Besides the fact that we think it’s wonderful and brings an energy to the ballet that you don’t get if you don’t go there, there’s also the fact that we connect our Nutcracker to the holiday season, which the children get excited about and it gets me excited,” said Attaway. “I’ve been doing this for 100 years, but for them it’s their first time and all it takes is that moment and then you become the kid again.”

Butler University’s “The Nutcracker”

Clowes Memorial Hall, 4602 Sunset Ave.

Indianapolis, IN 46208

Tickets range from $22.50 to $58

  • 7:30 p.m., November 29
  • 8 p.m., November 30
  • 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., December 1
  • 12 p.m. and 5 p.m., December 2