Golden girls dance The Nutcracker

Thursday, January 24, 2008

In December, a pair of young dancers from Golden had the opportunity to participate in a production of Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker.

Morgan and Sarah Shumaker, who participate in dance classes at Elite Dance Studios in Berryville, Ark., and are the daughters of Mark and Cheri Shumaker, were selected to dance in the Russian ballet, which was performed at the Alma Performing Arts Center in Alma, Ark., on Dec. 18, 2007.

"Moscow Ballet's publicist contacted me to see if Elite Dance Studios would host auditions for the production," said Emily Mock, of Elite Dance Studios. "I had rejected them a few times because I felt like I was too busy, but they kept calling.

"Finally, I decided it would be a good opportunity for the kids to work with professionals from Russia," said Mock.

Moscow Ballet sent soloist Oxana Gas Nikova to room with Mock while Elite Dance Studios hosted dance auditions at its studio in Springdale, Ark. Around 35 dancers from northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri, including around two dozen students from Elite Dance Studios, were selected to participate in the ballet.

Morgan received a part in the tea party scene, and Sarah was cast as a snowflake. From August through December of 2007, the girls traveled to Springdale, Ark., nearly every weekend for rehearsals with Mock.

"Moscow Ballet sent me an instructional DVD with the choreography and I taught it to the students," said Mock. "They did a really good job learning the choreography, but I stressed to them to be prepared because things could be different when they actually got there. I told them to be ready for whatever happens."

Although the girls were learning the choreography for their respective parts, they did not get a complete vision of the production until the day of the show when they arrived at the Alma Performing Arts Center to be fitted for their performance costumes.

"We were asked for their measurements before the show, but many of the costumes were literally sewn on when we got there,"?said Mock. "Right before the performance we were backstage and moms were pinning on the costumes, which were amazing. All of the dancers looked beautiful."

The entire event was a wonderful experience for the young dancers who had never worked with a professional dance studio before, said Mock.

"It was a good learning experience," said Mock. "Every performance is different than the next. That is what makes broadway or a ballet magical.

"It was wonderful for the kids to perform on a stage with a company with many people of who didn't speak English," said Mock. "They had never met these performers and the only thing they shared was the language of dance."

Moscow Ballet didn't make major changes in the choreography that the students had been working on for five months, but the students were forced to adapt to small changes.

"They changed little things, like entering stage left when they had practiced entering stage right," said Mock, "or they decided that a different dancer would enter first. The kids adapted very well."

Mock said that Morgan, Sarah and all of the young dancers exceeded her expectations.

"Considering that these students were used to performing in front of mirrors with their teacher there, they did great," said Mock. "They had never performed where there were a bunch of people and props on the stage with them. All of the dancers did a wonderful job."

Mock said the entire performance was both beautiful and inspiring, but she also admitted that her favorite portion of the production was a scene with the snowflake dancers.

"The snowflakes were the cutest things," said Mock. "During their scene they got down on their bellies and they were moving their heads from side to side. There were dancers behind them, but I don't think anyone looked past those snowflakes. I tried to teach them how to milk it and they did."

"It was so exciting to see the kids up there on stage with the Russian dancers,"?said Cheri Shumaker, Morgan and Sarah's mother. "At the curtain call at the end, Sarah was right between the prima ballerina and the boy who played the nutcracker, and she had the biggest grin on her face when they took the final bow."

"I hope all the kids take the love of the art of dance that the Russians have," said Mock. "American dancers are incredible, but Russian dancers are very strict in their training. They have a great passion for ballet and I hope the kids take that and keep it with them."

Morgan, who is 10 years old, has been participating in ballet at Elite Dance Studios for over seven years. Sarah, who is 8 years old, has been involved in dance for the last five years.

"Morgan and Sarah are very talented girls,"?said Mock. "Morgan is a flexible dancer and a very quick learner, and Sarah is a performer. For Sarah, life is a stage. She's very cut out for dance."

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