Since September, the dancers of the Performing Arts School of Central Pennsylvania have been preparing for this weekend’s production of “The Nutcracker,” a yearly tradition that has become a staple of the holiday season in State College.
The nonprofit organization originally did a version of “The Nutcracker” based on local historical figures, but it’s performed the traditional ballet since 2011. This year’s show once again will feature guest artist and PASCP alumnus Bradley Rhoton, as well as a prelude concert performed by the Central Pennsylvania Youth Orchestra.
“CPYO is part of our parent organization and it helps to celebrate them,” said Rebecca Maciejczyk, the PASCP’s artistic director. “I think the orchestra and the ballet go hand in hand, and we’re starting to work together a little bit more closely. I think it’s also good for the students to see that relationship.”
As for the ballet, the dancers have been eagerly awaiting opening night after months of preparation.
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“It is a huge time commitment,” said Erika Pugh, who will dance in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. “Even during my free time, I try to go into the studio just to rehearse my role and more than anything just to stay in shape and keep up my stamina.”
Pugh is a senior at State College Area High School who has been with the organization since she was 3. Although she’s been in several productions of “The Nutcracker,” this is her first time as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“This role is supposed to be lighter than air, so it’s very delicate and by no means flashy. It just takes on a completely different character than anything I’ve done in the past,” Pugh said. “This is really what I’ve always aspired to be since I was a very little girl, when I started ballet. It’s really the quintessential ballerina role if you think about it.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be “The Nutcracker” without a Nutcracker Prince, which, for the second year in a row, will be danced by Emiyare Ikwut-Ukwa. He said he’s been looking forward to the show and one dance in particular.
“The battle scene has always been my favorite part,” Ikwut-Ukwa said. “Last year the battle scene was more like martial arts, but they made it more of a dance and gave me more choreography.”
In addition to a reworked battle scene, the performance will include new Russian choreography.
“I think it’s going to steal the show,” Pugh said. “I’m very excited for everyone to see that.”
Leading up to the Dec. 13-14 performances at Eisenhower Auditorium, PASCP has participated in several community outreach events. The school hosted an open rehearsal last month, as well as a Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party at Toftrees Resort, which sold out, and a performance and reading of “The Nutcracker” story at Schlow Centre Region Library. Dancers also performed excerpts from “The Nutcracker” for residents of Brookline and The Villages at Penn State. But now, everyone involved in the production is ready for people to see the full picture of what they’ve been working on.
“Hopefully the audience will be pleased to see how hard we’ve all worked because I think it will pay off quite nicely,” Pugh said.
“The magic isn’t only in the story, but it’s about the hard work coming to fruition and what these dancers can achieve when they put the time and effort in,” Maciejczyk said. “For them to be able to enjoy it from the stage, and to present their work to people in the community is always exciting. That never gets old.”