Shining as Sugar Plum Fairies

Writer Joseph J. Airdo

Photography Courtesy of Michele Dawson Photography

Julian Rodriguez estimates that she will go through as many as 18 pairs of ballet shoes this holiday season.

The 14-year-old Cactus Shadows High School freshman has been cast as Clara in Legacy Ballet Foundation’s production of “The Nutcracker Suite,” which will take place Nov. 22–24 at The Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix.

“I dance six to seven days a week during Nutcracker season,” says Rodriguez, who has been dancing with the non-profit organization since her family moved to Arizona in 2011. “I have about 15 hours of classes per week, and then another 10 to 15 hours of rehearsals.”

That incredible commitment is typical of the dancers in Legacy Ballet Academy, the dance school associated with Legacy Ballet Foundation. Amee Miller, who will be portraying a dewdrop fairy and an Arabian princess in this year’s production, estimates that she devotes eight to 13 hours to dancing each week this time of the year.

“I think that because ‘The Nutcracker’ is so iconic and so special to so many people, we as dancers performing in the show tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make it as perfect and special as possible for the audience,” says the 17-year-old Deer Valley High School senior.

Legacy Ballet Academy owner and director Samantha Gobeille says that one of the ways that the non-profit organization makes its “Nutcracker Suite” performances as special as possible for the audience is by presenting shows with very high production values.

“We want to present an amazing show for our audience,” she explains. “Our budget for these shows is more than $50,000. We bring in quite a lot of backdrops, sets, lighting and special effects. Every year we make it different and try to improve it.”

Of course, those who benefit the most from the performances are the stars—Legacy Ballet Academy’s students. Gobeille adds that the attention that the non-profit organization puts on its youth is what sets its production of “The Nutcracker Suite” apart from the many others from which audiences have to choose in the Valley.

“The teenagers are doing the lead roles of sugar plums and the younger dancers are doing parts in the show that have significance instead of just standing around as a prop on stage,” Gobeille says. “We have learned to value how to make our productions specific to the kids that we have and help them really shine.”

One of the ways in which Legacy Ballet Foundation does that is by inviting national and international guest artists to dance alongside the students.

For this year’s production of “The Nutcracker Suite,” freelance performer, choreographer, ballet master, dance teacher, adjudicator and répétiteur Darren McIntyre will join Legacy Ballet Academy’s students on stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy’s cavalier.

McIntyre—who received an advanced diploma of dance from The Australian Ballet School—has toured throughout the U.S., Australia, Asia, Canada, Europe and South America, performing a wide range of both classical and contemporary works.

Gobeille says that the inclusion of guest artists like McIntyre gives older dancers the opportunity to partner with professional dancers who can properly lift and turn them, thereby elevating their training.

“A lot of dancers do not get to experience partner work until they are in a ballet company,” Gobeille says. “Plus, our younger students see that this is what they can do when they get older, so it makes it more applicable to them and elevates the entire production.”

The companies with which McIntyre has performed include Louisville Ballet, City Ballet of San Diego, Milwaukee Ballet, New York’s Ajkun Ballet Theatre, Germany’s Landestheater Detmold and The National Ballet of Ireland.

“We are very excited to have Darren for this upcoming show,” Gobeille says. “He has been in a variety of ballet companies, so he is very well-versed.”

Gobeille adds that “The Nutcracker Suite” also aids Legacy Ballet Academy’s students’ growth in maturity as dancers because it requires robust rehearsal schedules and the development of advanced skills to showcase.

“[Our students] are working on a traditional story-length ballet that is usually performed by professional ballet dancers,” she explains. “Sections of the ballet, such as ‘Land of the Snow,’ ‘Dewdrop,’ ‘Clara’ and other soloist roles, are still performed with the same level of difficulty as if an adult professional were dancing them.”

Legacy Ballet Foundation’s Saturday, Nov. 23 show will be immediately followed by a special cookie party during which audience members can meet cast members in their costumes. Gobeille says that it is the perfect way for everyone to welcome in the holiday season.

“We do [the show] before Thanksgiving to get our students geared up and excited for the holidays,” she notes. “It feels like the holidays, just from the music and the energy in the theater. It gets everybody in a very festive mood.”

Rodriguez’s favorite parts of performing in “The Nutcracker Suite” are listening to the production’s music—which she begins doing in August—and seeing all of the beautiful costumes and extravagant props come to life on stage.

“This is my ninth year performing in ‘The Nutcracker,’” says Rodriguez, who has been dancing since she was only 3 years old. “I love ‘The Nutcracker’ and sharing my joy of it on-stage. I am honored to be part of it.”

Miller shares Rodriguez’s sentiment.

“I am so so grateful that I have gotten to be a part of this production for three years now,” she says. “It is so special. This is truly one of the best times of the year for me. 

“‘The Nutcracker’ is such an iconic part of the holidays that I just have to hear the word ‘Nutcracker’ and I’m ready for Christmas.”

Legacy Ballet Foundation Presents “The Nutcracker Suite” 

Nov. 22–24 | The Madison Center for the Arts | 5601 N. 16th St., Phoenix | $25+ | 602-314-8033 |

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