The Nutcracker~Combining The Arts

Written by Kimberly Brown

As the holiday season approaches, the Arkansas River Valley is filled with artistic surprises. Every other year, the area welcomes the production of The Nutcracker, the all-time favorite Christmas tale. This year, the ballet returns to Russellville, but with an even sweeter vision: the DANCE Foundation is teaming up with local artists to present visually-animated wood nutcracker statues, to be auctioned during their performances of December.

The 10-inch, unfinished wood statues (roughly 24) have been assigned to a handful of talented artists from the River Valley area, each of which will be uniquely hand-painted and illustrated. The finished nutcrackers will be displayed and auctioned for collectors and buyers alike during all three Nutcracker performances.

The nutcrackers were purchased and distributed in their natural state during the summer and are expected to be finished in mid-to-late November, in order to be presented in December.

DANCE Foundation board members Ashley Miller Davis, Leanne Colvin, Pam Bagby, and others originated the idea to enliven the natural nutcrackers as a way to raise money for the organization’s productions. A similar idea had been used when local television personalities of Little Rock painted pottery pieces that were auctioned off for a fundraising event in Central Arkansas. After thoughtful deliberation, the members asked their interested acquaintances to help with fundraising efforts, and decided that, with hope, the animations would yield a great success.

Colvin said, “I think Pam said, ‘wouldn’t it be neat if we could get local artists to paint unfinished nutcrackers, and we could hold a silent auction at our Nutcracker performances?’ and it grew from that. We then started looking for unfinished nutcrackers that we could purchase and started asking our friends that we knew that had done artwork around town.”

The artists have devoted their time and materials to the DANCE Foundation, and have eagerly accepted their creative challenges.

The Artists

Using their own styles and talents, the artists will each depict their nutcracker’s personalities through paint, mixed media, and a host of unique ideas from each of their own creativities or inspirations.

Artist and Crawford Elementary art teacher Tonya Rhodes explains where much of her insight came from to represent her nutcracker.

“A lot of my artwork was inspired by Gustav Klimt, and I tried to incorporate black and white patterns using tissue paper and rubber for the pants’ design. For the jacket, I referred to Klimt’s “Tree of Life” work and created my own look.”

Each individual nutcracker bears a distinct style or characteristic, different from the other, and all will be available on display at each performance of The Nutcracker in December.

“We have decided to hold a silent auction, or bid box, for each nutcracker. Bids will be placed in an envelope during the shows, and at the end of the third performance the buyer with the highest bid will ‘win’ the nutcracker,” Colvin added.

“This is an opportunity to pick out and purchase a “one-of-a-kind” nutcracker. I expect to have many different personalities of nutcrackers, and it will certainly be exciting to see what these artists come up with.”

Ashley Bryan, artist and art teacher at Sequoyah School District, chose a more contemporary approach to illustrate her nutcracker.

“I was really influenced by modern artists and I used monochromatic colors with mixed media.”

Targeted toward a younger female audience, Bryan’s animations incorporate vivid pink colors and zebra striped patterns. Bryan added, “I thought the designs I used would be more relatable to the girls.”

While the DANCE Foundation has presented The Nutcracker production in previous years, the project idea makes its debut this year.

“Since this is our first time to do this type of project, I hope that it will spark an interest in other artists and that they will want to participate in this fun, new fundraiser for The DANCE Foundation,” Colvin said.

“I think it will be fun and interesting to see the different personalities show in each of our artists’ nutcrackers, and I hope that each one will be unique to their artist. I am also excited to see the reactions of the public and I hope there will be a nutcracker for many different personalities of our attendees.”

The auction will be open to public; anyone who attends one of the three performances will have an opportunity to bid on the nutcrackers. The figures will only be on display in the lobby of the facility during the three performances. All money from the highest bid(s) will go to The DANCE Foundation for future performances, dance intensives, and funding future projects.

Further information of the auction can be available by contacting LeAnne Colvin at (479) 857-7912 or by email at: carac@suddenlink.net.

Photographs of recently finished nutcrackers are available by accessing The DANCE Foundation Facebook page.

Other artists include: Boyd Osborne, Robb McCormick, Tracy Roberts, Sarah Gordon, Pam Bagby, Heather Ramsey, Toby Ridenhour, Carol Watson, Virginia Boerner and Amy Smith, among others.

The Nutcracker ballet will be presented during three performances in Russellville. As the completion of the new Center for the Arts building at Russellville High School is pending (as of publication) Gardner Auditorium has also been reserved. Final location will be confirmed closer to event date.

Performances will be at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11. Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $5 for children, and will be available at local Liberty Bank locations by November 15. (Due to the previous popularity of this program, those interested are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance.)

Local dancers featured in this production include Hannah Barber as Clara, Garrett Mullins as Fritz, Raigan Purtle as Dew Drop Fairy, Jimmy Ritchie as Rat King, and Mallory Leavell as Snow Queen.

Leavell, thankful and honored of the opportunity, says: “Putting on a production for the community is great; it’s a show for everyone. You will love it, and it will get you in the Christmas mood! “

Additional cast members include Randall Williams, Loretta Page, Vandy Moore, London Barnes, Olivia Barnes, Katelyn Danzy, Ruthie Jacimore, Star Austin, Grace Sykes, Caroline Larkin, Cailey Koch, Alex Tanner, Cameron Davis, Emma Grace Gregory, Zadie Peters, Arianna Edwards, Libby Wills, Lauren Owens, Rachel Ivy, Madelyn Barber, Autumn Guizar, Emerie Housley, Macey Clayton, Harper Phillips, Karis Enchelmayer, Hannah Grace Knight, Jessica Knighton.

Other cast members include Carson Davis, Isabelle Berryhill, Lydia Hale, Ellie Richardson, Claire Carothers, Macie Petty, Sydney Jones, Cara Malin, Elizabeth Griffin, Paige Thomas, Davis McNeill, Grant Mullins, Garrett Mullins, Greyson Mullins, Gage Mullins, William Ivy, Harrison Turnipseed, Nicholas Colburn, Hanna Jane Colvin, Ashton Purtle, Victoria Myers, Annabelle Walker, Hailey Smith, Shannon Perkins, Devin Slater, Ava Moreland, Olive Harrington, Brinkley Lake, Kate Rollans, Sara Grace Larkin, Landry Modersohn, River Higgs, Mary Margaret Stratton, McKenna Mullins, Ava Richardson, Cadie Beth Young, Annalee Drain, Anna Cate Wojtkowski, Logan Smith, Breckyn Ballard, Brooke Owens, Dache Brown, Mia Ratliff, Allyson George, Spencer Hurlbut, Kim Santillan, Hanna Jane Colvin, Victoria Myers, Ellie Richardson, Ava Jane McNeill, ElizabethGriffin,MaddieWojtkowski,Grace Hendren, Ellen Wade, Ashley Mahan.

THE DANCE FOUNDATION

The DANCE Foundation (Developing Arts and Nurturing Cultural Excellence) was founded in 2005 to provide local dancers with accessibility to performing arts opportunities within the community. The organization serves students in the River Valley as an inspiring learning experience for those who wish to challenge and/ or improve their skills.

Throughout each year, students are given the chance to work with professional dancers during a series of intensives, in where they learn the different styles of dance or the latest dance routines.

The DANCE Foundation has worked previously with Miami’s renowned ballerina, DeAnne Petruschke, and New York’s American Ballet Theatre dancers Mary Mills Thomas and Grant DeLong; all of whom performed in 2009’s Nutcracker production in the River Valley. Petruschke leads the dancers in their choreography again this year, with the help of DANCE Foundation’s owner, Ashley Miller Davis.

Davis has returned this year to direct the performance of this magical Christmas tale, staying true to the classic version of the famous ballet. Relying on E.T.A Hoffman’s traditional story, the cast and dancers will bring the exciting adventures of young Clara and her Nutcracker friends to life.

The production will include a variety of dancers from within the community, along with student dancers from the three local studios — All That Dance, Jane Freeman’s Studio of Dance, and Just Dance Inc. Auditions for the ballet were held in April, and most of the choreography was taught in July. The dancers have been diligently rehearsing since.

“The dancers have been working so hard for the upcoming performances and they are dancing beautifully. It’s always fun working with the younger dancers; teaching them this wonderful story that they get to tell through dance, and working with the older dancers is an honor. There are so many beautiful and talented dancers in our community. They are amazing!” Davis said.

“The DANCE Foundation is thrilled to be able to offer productions such as the Nutcracker to the River Valley,” said Davis.

“Five out of six past performances have sold out and we feel fortunate that the response has been what it has been.”

With over 100 people involved in the ballet, this year’s performance is sure to offer something for everyone.

“We’ve been overwhelmed at the amount of community support we have been shown,” she added. “We hope that the community will support this year’s performance the way they have in the past and that everyone will come experience this holiday classic with us!”

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