Voorhees Ballet Theatre approaches its 30th anniversary production of ‘The Nutcracker’

The show encompasses young dancers from across the region.

(Front) Mechanical Clara Doll Genevieve Rickey and Mechanical Fritz Doll Erin Maugeri, (back) understudy Clara Doll Elana Kobb and understudy Fritz Doll Molly Nolan Maugeri rehearse for Voorhees Ballet Theatre’s 30th annual production of “The Nutcracker.”

Sugar plums and pointe shoes will soon populate the stage of Voorhees Middle School.

For the past three decades, the Voorhees Ballet Theatre has produced its annual rendition of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

Its 30th annual show, which has blossomed into a signature seasonal event in South Jersey, will be performed Friday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 10 at VMS, including a Sugar Plum Fairy Tea on Saturday, Dec. 9.

“‘The Nutcracker’ has always been my favorite ballet, so to put it on the stage was a dream come true,” artistic director and choreographer Suzanne C. Steinbach said. “And each year, we try to make something more professional about the production. Each year, I try to raise the bar, and for the most part, they get there.”

Raising the bar includes fusing the show with their own touches.

For the second year, the theater is implementing a story within the story featuring “mechanical” Clara and Fritz dolls, mirroring the dueling brother and sister’s party scene feud.

“I tried to make (the mechanical doll sequence) how they sort of act during the party scene,” Steinbach said. “(The production) is like a painting, if it needs more over here or over there, then I try to tweak it.”

Unlike the harlequin dolls ordinarily dancing in “The Nutcracker,” these roles tackle staccato movement, embodying a robotic essence.

“The mechanical part is the hardest part, because you can’t be wiggly,” said Erin Maugeri, who plays the mechanical Fritz doll.

The more rigid gestures naturally defy classical ballet technique.

Lana Kennedy, who plays one of the Clara roles, rehearses for Voorhees Ballet Theatre’s 30th annual production of “The Nutcracker.”

“The hardest part for me is making sure my feet aren’t silked, that I flex my feet when I’m supposed to and I point my feet when I’m supposed to,” said Genevieve Rickey, who plays the mechanical Clara doll.

When Steinbach directs this particular scene, she stresses the importance of facial expression as an extension of the movement, saying “the eyes have to dance.”

Each year, Steinbach amends the show based on the talent. This year’s 75-member cast features several middle school-aged girls, which has led to the addition of a Junior Snow Chorus.

The majority of the young ladies has been in the Christmas ballet for most of their lives. Some dancers were in the production as infants.

With a former Fritz playing this year’s Sugar Plum Fairy and a previous baby mouse now taking on the role of Clara, Voorhees Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker,” has served not only as a township tradition but as ritual on individual levels.

“When I went to see (‘The Nutcracker’), I would always watch the bigger roles and think ‘I wish I could do that one day’ and now here I am. It feels so special,” said Lana Kennedy, who plays one of the three Claras.

Although the story and choreography sustains every year, the girls gain a new perspective of the production with each new role they play, evolving their appreciation of the ballet as they evolve as ballerinas.

Sugar Plum Fairy Amanda Missigman rehearses for Voorhees Ballet Theatre’s 30th annual production of “The Nutcracker.”

“When you get new parts and get to be new things, I feel like it’s a whole new aspect of ‘The Nutcracker.’ You never thought of it that way,” said Stephanie Bradley, who plays one of the three Claras. “It’s like a different part and a whole different ‘Nutcracker.’”

Information:

Voorhees Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” will run on Friday, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. at Voorhees Middle School, located at 1000 Holly Oak Drive, Voorhees

Sugar Plum Tea is scheduled for Dec. 9 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. A separate ticket is required.

Tickets can be purchased at: https://24977.recitalticketing.com/r/?tid=401&sid=0&message=