Tag Archives: “The Nutcracker”

Something New For “Nutcracker”

There are many ways to mark the start of the holiday season. “The Nutcracker” is as good as any.

For 4 decades, the Westport Academy of Dance’s ballet has been staged here. The venues have changed — Staples and Weston High Schools, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary — but the performances never did. They were always outstanding.

Westport Academy of Dance’s “Nutcracker.”

For the first time this year, the local “Nutrcracker” will have a professional setting worthy of its almost-professional dancers. The 40th annual production is set for Bridgeport’s Klein Memorial Auditorium. Shows are tomorrow (Saturday, November 27, 3 p.m.) and Sunday (November 28 2 p.m.).

“The Nutcracker” is such a tradition that current Westport Academy of Dance owner Nancy Zindell also performed in it — multiple times. So have current Academy teachers Tollie Barrato, Abby Evans and Grace Bergonzi. They were inspired as young dancers; now they’re doing the same for a new generation.

Parents are an integral part of every aspect of the Academy of Dance — including “The Nutcracker.”

*Abby Evans as Sugar Plum, with her dad Bill Evans. He played Drosselmeyer for years.

They, their kids and their kids’ instructors are excited to return to a full, live performance after last year’s’ COVID interruption. For those unable to be at the Klein though, both shows will be livestreamed.

After 40 years — or 129, since Tchaikovsky wrote it in 1892 — there’s still new news about “The Nutcracker.”

(Click here for ticket information. Click here to learn more about the Westport Academy of Dance.)


Playhouse Presents New Twists On Old Classics

This time of year, we’re bombarded by “Nutcracker” news. Every ballet school in the county state country world universe multiverse produces the Christmas classic. It takes a lot to cut through the clutter.

Lila Doromal does.

The 5th grader attends Pierrepont School in Westport. On December 22 and 23, she’ll take the Westport Country Playhouse stage to dance the role of Clara (also called Marie).

Most people know Clara as Caucasian. In fact, the whole world of ballet is largely white.

But recently the New York City Ballet made headlines by casting their first African American Clara/Marie.

Now the Playhouse is breaking barriers too.

Lila is Indian and Filipino. She studies at the Greenwich Conservatory of Classical Ballet (and with the Bolshoi Ballet Summer Intensive). At Pierrepont she takes modern and West African dance.

Her fellow Greenwich Conservatory dancers — and guest artists from, among others, New York Dance Theater and the European School of Ballet– are presenting the WCP show.

Lila Doromal (Photo/Daniel Hernandez @TalemeStudio)

It’s set for Sunday, December 22 (4 p.m.) and Monday, December 23 (12:30 and 3:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets to this groundbreaking — and not-like-all-the-others — “Nutcracker.”

Meanwhile, the Westport Country Playhouse is gearing up for another holiday treat — with another hometown twist.

This Saturday (December 14, 7 p.m.), their Holiday Benefit Concert features Clay Singer.

The 2013 Staples High School grad, who starred in many Players shows, is well known to Playhouse fans. He appeared last year in “Man of La Mancha”; the year before, he went on with 2 hours’ notice in “Romeo and Juliet.”

Clay Singer

Clay earned a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, and is now an Equity professional.

He loves appearing on his “local” stage, before audiences filled with family and friends. They provide him with special energy, he says.

Everyone who performs at the Playhouse knows its history — but having grown up in Westport, realizing he is following in the literal footsteps of giants like James Earl Jones, Gene Wilder, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, adds special meaning.

The show is hosted by Tony Award winner (and Fairfield resident) Joanna Gleason, and includes other Playhouse favorites. They’ll perform a variety of old and new holiday favorites.

For tickets and more information, click here. Click here for a bonus Broadway World interview with Joanna Gleason, about the show.

Dads And Daughters Make “Nutcracker” Sparkle

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

You know that, because this weekend “The Nutcracker” dances into town.

The Westport Academy of Dance‘s 36th annual production is set for tomorrow and Sunday (December 2 and 3) at Staples High School.

It’s an area-wide show — but Westporters figure prominently. Staples seniors Julia Rosier, Rachel Wolfe, Kelley Flynn, Jessie Parker and Izzy Chun are featured performers. They and their 120 fellow dancers began rehearsing in August.

Izzy Chun takes the spotlight.

It never gets old: This is the 12th “Nutcracker” for Julia and Rachel.

It’s also the 6th — and last — year that Rachel will dance with her dad.

In 2012, Michael volunteered for the role of “Father.” (The dance role, that is. He’d already fulfilled his biological and emotional roles.)

Michael has been all-in, doing something most fathers never think about — let alone follow through with. Two years ago, he wrote about the experience on his blog.

Michael and Rachel Wolfe.

But they’re not the only Westport father/daughter team. Jessie’s dad Greg has worked backstage for 7 years. Like Michael, he wanted to do what he could to share his then-little girl’s passion.

Everyone knows “The Nutcracker” story. But there are always stories behind the story.

For the final time this weekend, Michael Wolfe and Greg Parker will enjoy theirs.

(“The Nutcracker” will be performed tomorrow [Saturday, December 2] at 3 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 3 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

Michael Wolfe: Westport’s Budding Baryshnikov

If it’s Christmas season, it must be “Nutcracker” time.

As regularly as its clock strikes 12, Westport’s Academy of Dance ballet starring toy soldiers, mice and a Sugar Plum Fairy pirouettes onto the Staples High School stage this weekend (December 5 and 6).

Ah yes: Westport's Academy of Dance performs "The Nutcracker." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Ah yes: Westport’s Academy of Dance performs “The Nutcracker.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Michael Wolfe’s daughter has performed in it for years. So have countless local kids.

But Michael has too. That’s not something many longtime Westport dads can say.

Or if they did, would say publicly.

But Michael — a former publisher of magazines like Men’s Journal and GQ, now CMO of a small financial firm — is proud of his “Nutcracker” life.

In fact, he recently wrote about it in his blog, “Too Lazy To Write a Book.”

It’s a long story. Then again, so is “The Nutcracker.” (Particularly the 1,728,596th time.)

Nutcracker poster

Here’s the Spark Notes version:

Four years ago, the guy playing Clara’s father had a conflict. Michael’s wife Karen told him: “You’re doing this.”

Michael says, “I am not a graceful human being. I am lucky that I stay upright for long periods of time. I bump my knees into walls, chairs and various kitchen appliances at least 3 times a day.”

But his daughter Rachel loves ballet. She dances 6 or 7 days a week, with time off only to “eat, study, and threaten to kill her brother while he’s sleeping.”

Michael’s involvement with her passion had consisted only of dropping his daughter off at rehearsals, and watching her performances (which “take place in the dark and practically demand a good nap”).

So Michael signed up. He passed some kind of audition. As easy as that, he was cast as Clara’s father.

Michael Wolfe's role in "The Nutcracker" was not as demanding as these.

Michael Wolfe’s role in “The Nutcracker” was not as demanding as these kids’.

Rehearsals were tough. Michael describes himself as “a drunk Muppet in the midst of a seizure.” Fortunately, the teachers focused on the girls, and did not worry about “the hapless and possibly spastic adult.”

At the dress rehearsal, he was fitted with a costume at least one size too big. While he knew he was a “glorified extra” — not someone dancing “Baryshnikov’s Greatest Hits” — he still felt out of place. “Joe Cocker dancing with a team of Beyonces,” he writes.

The day of the show, Michael met the professional ballet dancers playing the larger male roles. Changing into his oversized costume in front of those “impossibly muscular physical specimens of human perfection” hardly improved his confidence.

Nor did watching them pull on their leotards, whose only purpose is to make their genitals “appear to be the size of basketballs, and on the verge of bursting through their thin fabric at any minute.”

But his daughter — “ethereal in her wispy snowflake dress, her face in angelic makeup and hair tied tightly in an elegant bun” — thought he looked “awesome.” Then she sat and put makeup on his 19th-century aristocratic face.

Somehow, the shows went off perfectly. He hit his marks, bowed at the right times, and danced decently enough, considering his age and “suspect abilities.”

Michael Wolfe: "Nutcracker" star.

Michael Wolfe: “Nutcracker” star.

For the next 3 years, he reprised his role. And he’ll do it again, today and tomorrow.

But there’s no rush to see him, he says. (Anyway, only a few tickets are available at the door.)

He plans to play his part for a few more years — until Rachel graduates.

Besides, he says, “my daughter’s got this amazing new blush she can’t wait to try out on me.”

(Intrigued by Michael’s story? Click here to read it all. For more information on this weekend’s performances of “The Nutcracker,” click on Westport’s Academy of Dance website.)

Michael Wolfe and his daughter Rachel, backstage last year.

Michael Wolfe and his daughter Rachel, backstage last year.


Richard Foggio: Westport’s Billy Elliot 

From 5th through 9th grade, Richard Foggio played football.  A broken collarbone ended his Staples freshman season.  Luckily, he had a fallback:  ballet.

Richard had been dancing since age 4 — first in England, then here.  The better he got — and the bigger roles he earned — the more he enjoyed it.

“I love the feeling, excitement and exhilaration of performing on stage,” he says.

“I also love trying to push myself further and further.  It’s really exciting to be able to find out what my body can do.”

Some of his teammates teased him when he was younger.  It stopped as he got older, he says, because ballet helped him become a better player.  Being one of the bigger, stronger guys sure didn’t hurt.

At 13 — after trying many forms of dance, and competing — Richard decided to focus on ballet.  At Connecticut Dance School he had featured parts.  When he performed the Cavalier solo from “The Nutcracker,” he began thinking of ballet as a career.

Two summers ago — at 15 — Richard passed an audition for the Kirov Academy’s summer program in Washington, DC. He worked with an outstanding teacher, Anatoli Kucheruk, and took classes with older, more advanced dancers.

After the intense 3-week session, he knew ballet was what he loved — and had to do.

“The older guys not only inspired me.  They made me want to push myself to try and be like them, or even better,” Richard reports.

Richard Foggio as "Dracula." (Photo by Paolo Galli)

When Richard was accepted into Kirov’s year-round school program, he called his parents.  Their first response was “maybe” — which he interpreted as “no.”

When he returned to Westport, they discussed the implications.  He would miss out on the rich academic offerings of Staples.  He’d have to stop playing violin, which he’d done since age 7.

Attending Kirov all year would also mean probably not going directly to college.  Most dancers audition for paying jobs with companies.

But Richard wanted to go, and his parents supported his decision.

Last year, as a sophomore, his Kirov curriculum balanced academics and arts.  This year the academics “start sliding away.”  He takes Art History and Great Ballets, along with US Government, Chemistry, World Literature and French 3.

His 1st class is at 7:20 a.m.  After school — from 2:30 to 7 p.m. — there’s ballet class, and rehearsals for shows.

Next year he’ll take Ballet History, Great Ballets 2, and a senior seminar covering photo shoots and designing a resume.  “It helps us prepare for life as a dancer,” he says.

As part of their agreement to let him attend Kirov, Richard’s parents asked him to continue his math education online.  Last year he took Pre-Calculus Honors with Trigonometry; this year he’s taking AP Calculus BC, through Johns Hopkins.

The demanding schedule has paid off.  At an audition for the Kennedy Center Master Class Series, he was offered an internship with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet for their performances of “La Sonnambula” this winter.

Over Thanksgiving break, Richard will rehearse the Grand Pas de Deux for  Connecticut Dance School’s “Nutcracker” next month.

Richard’s short-term goals are to maintain his grades, fix problems with his technique, and prepare for December’s shows.

Long-term, he hopes to get into a company — hopefully in the corps de ballet.

“But even an apprenticeship would be nice,” he says.

Billy Elliot, eat your heart out.

Eli Manning, too.