By Mary-Justine Lanyon
First there were the strains of some familiar music. And then dancers clad in colorful costumes took the stage.
In this case, the stage was the floor of the multipurpose room at Lake Arrowhead Elementary School. And the dancers are members of the cast of this year’s Nutcracker, which will be presented by the Lake Arrowhead Classical Ballet Company the first weekend in December.
Each year, Director Sharon McCormick noted, they visit one of the mountain’s elementary schools to share the magic of ballet with the students.
At LAE, the dancers presented the Land of the Sweets from Act 2 of the ballet, first to the younger students and then to those in grades three through five. McCormick described the characters and who they represent: Chinese, Spanish, Arabian, Mirlitons, Trepak, Bakers and Chocolate.
Many of the dancers will be on pointe during the actual productions, she added, but the school floor is too slippery for them to do so for the students.
To dance on pointe – which doesn’t begin until a dancer is 12 or 13 – the student must have strong ankles and a strong core. Madison Cummins, this year’s Clara, passed out her pointe shoes so students could see what they’re like.
Special guest dancer Michael Tomlin will dance the part of the Nutcracker in December. For the students, he danced in Arabian, partnered with 16-year-old Chloe Hoard. Each time Tomlin lifted Chloe into the air, the students gasped and applauded.
As the dancing concluded, McCormick asked each of her students to tell their names, their ages and how long they had been dancing. Most had been introduced to dance as young as 4 or 5.
McCormick then opened it up to questions – and questions the students had!
When asked about how they prepare, Tomlin said it’s different for the guys. “How many pushups do you think I do a day?” The answer was 200. He then challenged one boy to do five one-handed.
As for why they decided to dance, the ballerinas had a variety of answers from it’s fun to they like the music, from wanting to be like their older sister to really wanting to be in The Nutcracker. Madison Cummins told the students that it is her passion. And Tomlin said he likes that he gets to connect “with young people and the world.”
One student asked about the materials the costumes are made from. McCormick went down the line, identifying materials from chiffon to taffeta. Those costumes are made by Toni Veronick, who also creates costumes for professional ice-skating tours. The Mirliton costumes, McCormick added, are original, dating back 33 years to the first production by the ballet company.
Who does the choreography? one student asked. McCormick does it herself. Chryl Russell from the Arrowhead Arts Association, which brought the performance to the school, asked her to define choreography.
“Every step the dancers take, every angle, every arm movement, every head movement is mapped out – that’s choreography,” McCormick explained.
As for what inspired McCormick, she said that, as a child, she watched outside a dance studio as her parents couldn’t afford classes for her. “I started taking dance in college. It is a passion of mine. I wanted to share my knowledge.”
The parts in the ballet change every year, according to the skills of the dancers.
And what does it feel like to dance on pointe? “They dream of it and then wonder why,” McCormick said. Several dancers noted how badly it hurts, with one saying it feels like you have a stale marshmallow on your toe.
“The longer you wear them, the less they hurt,” Chloe said. Other dancers added you get used to them and learn to live with the pain. But they all agreed it is worth it.
What does it feel like to be a dancer? The answers included rewarding, fun, graceful, comforting. “You feel good about your accomplishments,” one dancer said. Another said she feels like a princess. “I never want to stop. It’s a big confidence booster,” said another dancer. “It feels like floating.”
The Lake Arrowhead Ballet Company’s performances of The Nutcracker will take place on Friday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m.; on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 2:30 and 7 p.m.; and on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 2:30 p.m. at the San Manuel Performing Arts Theater, 2772 N. Sterling Avenue in San Bernardino. Tickets are available at www.arrowheadballet.org or by calling (909) 336-1359.
In addition to Tomlin, the special guests include Raydel Caceres as Cavalier and Robbie Downey as Sugar Plum. The other featured dancers are Sumerlee Malone as Snow Queen and Evan Valdez as Fritz.