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Rebecca Bailey, a sixth-grader at Stanton Middle school in Kent, first became hooked on ballet after her grandmother took her and her two older siblings to see a ballet, said her mother Barbara Bailey.
"They all went to see the ballet, and when they came back, my mother pressed the program in my hand, turned the page to Chris's photo [Chris Meneer, artistic director of Ballet Theatre of Ohio] and said 'you have got to give her a call so these kids can dance,'" said Barbara Bailey. "She said 'I want to see my grandchildren dance on stage.'"
The rest is history. Bailey will be dancing the role of Clara, the young girl who receives an enchanted Nutcracker for Christmas, at the Ballet Theatre of Ohio's annual production of "The Nutcracker" at the Akron Civic Theatre. Rebecca will share the role with Corinne St. John of Streetsboro.
Incidentally, the ballet that Rebecca saw? "The Nutcracker" at the Akron Civic Theatre. In addition, Juliana, an eighth-grader at Stanton and Nathaniel, a junior at Kent Roosevelt, also are in the ballet.
"The Nutcracker" will be staged Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Nov 30 at 2 p.m.; Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Dec. 7 at 2 p.m.
This is the 21st year Meneer has brought this holiday tradition to the Akron Civic.
"It's a fabulous show for children of all ages," said Meneer. "We have professional dancers to tiny dancers who tug at the heart strings," Meneer said. "We call them the scene stealers."
St. John, who is homeschooled, said she started dancing in "The Nutcracker" a few years ago, making her debut as a Polichinelle and one of Drosselmeyer's helpers.
Both St. John and Rebecca Bailey said that one big challenge with this role was acting.
"I have to work on my faces," St. John said.
Meneer said that ballet dancers "take classes for dance, but they don't often get the opportunity for acting."
The young ladies dancing the role of Clara also "have to be super strong dancers to be able to keep up with the big kids and the professionals," Meneer added.
"Both of my Claras are doing a fantastic job," she said.
St. John will dance the first weekend as Clara, and Rebecca Bailey will dance as Clara the second weekend. Guest artists include Theresa Holland, who will perform the roles of Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy both weekends. Other guest artists include Damien Highfield, Brian Murphy and Gary Lenington. Also, Joshua Isley will return to play the role of Drosselmyer, and his brother Jeremiah will return as the Mouse King.
Lenington, who lives in Akron, said this is his fifth year dancing in "The Nutcracker" for Ballet Theatre of Ohio.
"In my career, I've been dancing for 31 years, and I think for 29 of those years I've done a 'Nutcracker,'" Lenington said. "I've done every one of the male roles except the Mouse King, Mother Ginger and Drosselmeyer. And the Sugar Plum Fairy," he added and laughed.
As well as the ballet, danced to Tchaikovsky's famous score, there will be many activities available for families an hour before the curtain goes up. Meneer said there will be several opportunities for photos in the Civic's lobby, including photos with the Nutcracker tree and in Santa's workshop. Santa also will be present to hear Christmas wishes and for photos. In addition, there will be several gingerbread houses on display, created by Dr. John Learner, a dentist with an office in Cuyahoga Falls.
Barbara Bailey, who coordinates the preshow activities, said that a challenge was to make things "a little different every year." Another challenge? Helping Santa with his list.
"It's my goal to have as many names as possible on Santa's list," Barbara said. "I invite them to look for their names on the list while they wait to talk to Santa."
After the show, the main characters will come out and sign autographs from the audience members, Lenington said.
"After the show, all of the lead characters, we go out and mingle with the audience," he said. "We get to see their reactions and interact with them. That's just magical."
"Children run all over the lobby looking for their favorite characters," Meneer added. "'Where is the Mouse King?' 'Have you seen Clara?'"