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Putting on their ballet shoes for holiday play

Woodbury dancers Molly Roche,Janie Rist, Sara Ezzell, Katlyn Newman, Erin Chase, and Olivia Verdick are part of Ballet Minnesota's production of "The Nutcracker." Woodbury dancers not pictured include Emma and Noah Connors and Gretchen Garlach.

For many actors portraying one of Shakespeare's great characters is a dream. For many musicians it's a dream to play one of Mozart's greatest. For many ballet dancers it's a dream to portray Clara in "The Nutcracker."

Woodbury resident Olivia Verdick, who is an eighth grader at Woodbury Middle School, is currently living out her dreams of portraying Clara in Ballet Minnesota's production of the classic holiday ballet.

"It's really exciting to be Clara, it's a huge honor," she said. "It's so much fun to show the story she is going through and bring the story to life."

"The Nutcracker," which Ballet Minnesota debuted in 1989, tells the story of a little girl named Clara who can't fall asleep after a Christmas Eve party at her house. Clara dreams herself into a world where toys become larger than life. This is where she meets the Nutcracker Prince who defends her against the Mouse King.

Verdick isn't the only Woodbury connection to this year's production of "The Nutcracker," a total of eight other dancers also portray various roles in the ballet. Those students are -- Lake Middle School seventh grader Erin Chase, Valley Crossing Community School sixth grader Katlyn Newman, Sara Ezell, 15, from the St. Paul Conservatory of Performing Arts, Bailey Elementary third grader Noah Connors and his sister Math and Science Academy sixth grader Emma Connors, St. Ambrose Catholic School seventh grader Molly Roche, Lake Middle School sixth grader Janie Rist and Lake Middle School sixth grader Gretchen Garlach.

Practice makes perfect

The dancers who are in "The Nutcracker" have their work cut out for them in rehearsing for the show. The dancers practice almost everyday all day.

"The days are long but it's all worth it in the end," Chase said. "I love seeing everything come together."

Ezell said she really enjoys being able to come back year after year, for "The Nutcracker," and practice to make everything perfect.

"There's always something to work for, so you never get bored," she said. "You get so much better every year."

Garlach agrees with Ezell that rehearsing is one of her favorite aspects of ballet.

"The rehearsals are always changing and you're always learning, excelling and growing," she said.

For some of the dancers, it's a bit more challenging since they have to learn multiple dancers for different characters.

For example Newman portrays a total of eight characters, which range from friends of Clara's to dolls to soldiers to the Madame Ginger scene.

It's hard to learn all of the numbers," she said.

For Emma Connors and Rist, their favorite part of the show is all of the different costumes and characters they get to lose themselves in.

"I just love playing the different parts and wearing the different costumes," Connors said.

Bringing a magical story to life

"The Nutcracker" has become a favorite, and tradition for many, because of its music and dance, Chase said.

"It's really magical and fun to watch," she said.

For Roche, she said she really enjoys being able to embody Christmas for people.

"We can make the music visible to other people," she said. "It gets everyone into the Christmas spirit."

Ezell and Noah Connors said they think everyone relates to "The Nutcracker" because it's a classic story of good verses evil.

Roche said her favorite scene in the ballet is the living room scene when all of the toys come to life.

"It reminds me of home," she said.

All nine Woodbury dancers said they are excited for opening night and are confident in the show's success.

"Ballet Minnesota does such a wonderful job with the show," Janie Rist said.

Ballet Minnesota's production of "The Nutcracker" will be Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. at the O'Shaughnessy Theater at St. Catherine's University in St. Paul. Tickets are $15 for children 12 and under, $18 for seniors, 62 and over, and $27-$40 for adults. Tickets can purchased by calling Ticketmaster at (612) 673-0404 or at the O'Shaughnessy ticket office. More information can be found at

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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