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Dec 4, 2018 11:42 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Hampton Ballet Theatre School Presents 10th Annual 'Nutcracker'

Devon Friedman danced the part of the Snow Queen in 2017. This year, she will dance the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  ERIC STRIFFLER
Dec 4, 2018 12:14 PM

Come this weekend, Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater in East Hampton will be abuzz with seasonal excitement, as close to 90 dancers from the Hampton Ballet Theatre School present “The Nutcracker” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.“When we get to the theater, the older girls get very excited,” said HBTS founder and director Sara Jo Strickland. “They have their dressing rooms and mirrors with lights. … It’s a very nice backstage.”

This is HBTS’s 10th annual production of the holiday classic, and it has become not only a traditional favorite for East End audiences, it’s also a favorite with the young ballerinas and ballerinos—the young women and men at HBTS—who, each year, look forward to moving up a notch by dancing a new and more challenging role.

Before HBTS, “The Nutcracker” was offered by Danse Arts in Bridgehampton where Ms. Strickland taught for several years prior to starting her own studio.

The dancers begin young, with the tiniest among them, many not even in preschool yet, playing the adorable Pochinelles, who emerge from beneath Mother Ginger’s skirt. From there, they go on to play Mice, Angels, Flowers, Soldiers, Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, Candy Canes, Marzipan, Dew Drops, and roles like Clara, the Snow Queen, and ultimately the Sugar Plum Fairy as the most skilled dancers in the company finish up high school and prepare to leave the East End for their next great adventure at college, on stage or in the workforce.

“It’s the ‘growing-up ballet,’” noted Ms. Strickland during a recent rehearsal of “The Nutcracker” at HBTS’s studio in Bridgehampton. “They take on different roles all the way up. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of skill and practice.”

As if on cue, as she speaks a large group of dancers arrives at the studio. They stash coats, fix their hair and put on ballet slippers in preparation for the evening’s rehearsal.

Among the dancers getting ready and warming up is Devon Friedman, this year’s Sugar Plum Fairy. Devon is one of those aforementioned Pochinelles who started dancing when she was still basically a toddler and hasn’t stopped since. Now, as a 16-year-old junior at Southampton High School, she admits that this is the role she has been dreaming of for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve been watching it for a while,” said an understated Devon with a sly grin. “I knew all the music already.”

She has also come to know many of the dance moves as well and is excited to finally get to wear the Sugar Plum Fairy tutu, which is purple—her favorite color.

But while the best-known version of “The Nutcracker” features the choreography of the great 20th century ballet master George Balanchine—who is, incidentally, buried in Sag Harbor’s Oakland Cemetery—Ms. Strickland explains that, depending on the dancer, she sometimes opts to go with the ballet’s original 19th century choreography by Russian Marius Petipa. His version was used when “The Nutcracker” first premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892.

“The Petipa version was the original Sugar Plum Fairy dance, then came the Balanchine. We’ll change from dancer to dancer, and I felt like Petipa fit better for Devon,” Ms. Strickland said.

When asked what it is about Devon’s skill as a dancer that makes her a good candidate for Petipa’s Sugar Plum Fairy, Ms. Strickland responded, “Devon can turn like a top. She’s tiny, and James can throw her up in the air. They’re matched well physically and they partner well together.

“He’s also very strong—so we’re doing the helicopter.”

She’s referring to James Stevko, the guest artist who will be performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier and dance partner in the grand pas de deux near the end of the ballet. The helicopter is an overhead move in which the Cavalier lifts the dancer over his head and then spins her around and catches her as she drops down.

“It’s fun,” grinned Devon when asked if performing the move scares her at all.

But it’s also challenging, Ms. Strickland explained, and, at three and a half minutes, the variation is quite long.

“There’s a whole turning combination at the end, and the coda is fast,” she said. “The dances start and they don’t stop.”

Devon, who played the Snow Queen in last year’s production of “The Nutcracker,” went en pointe at the age of 11. She can be found dancing at the HBTS studio pretty much every evening throughout the school year. In addition to partnering classes at the studio, Devon also takes part in summer intensives there—all of which means she is well prepared for her time in the Sugar Plum spotlight this weekend.

“I feel like I’m more excited than nervous,” Devon said. “I’ve been performing on that stage for years, and I know it really well.”

Also moving up to big roles this year are Jillian Hear and Holiday Bovio who share the role of the Arabian Princess and will be partnered by guest artist Nick Peregrino. Beatrice DeGroot and Samantha Prince (last year’s Sugar Plum Fairy) are sharing the role of Dew Drop Princess, partnered by guest artist Josep Maria Monreal.

Finally, Lauren Gabbard and Sedona Silvera will alternate in the role of Snow Queen and will be partnered with their Snow King, Hudson Galardi-Troy, a longtime HBTS student and one of the few boys to be found on the East End who has remained committed to dance into his high school years.

Another first this year, noted Ms. Strickland, is a group of 22 girls who recently went en pointe. While it’s anybody’s guess where these young dancers will end up in the years ahead, for now, they are firmly grounded in a holiday tradition that binds them to the East End community and one other.

“They go through a lot together,” Ms. Strickland said. “They have a good bond … and a lot of fun.”

The Hampton Ballet Theatre School’s 10th annual production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is Friday, December 7, at 7 p.m., Saturday, December 8, at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, December 9, at 2 p.m. at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater, 158 Main Street, East Hampton.

Advance tickets are $15 to $45 ($20 to $50 on performance day). The production features costumes by Yuka Silvera and lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski. To reserve tickets call 888-933-4287 or email hamptonballettheatreschool.com. For more information about HBTS, email info@hamptonballettheatreschool.com.

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