Dance academy

Behind the scenes of the “The Nutcracker Espresso” of the Black Dance Academy of Dallas

It’s a twist on the traditional nutcracker, and it’s a treat, literally, for all ages. The Dallas Black Dance Academy will present The Espresso Nutcracker this Saturday at the Majestic Theater, both live and via a live virtual broadcast. The Nutcracker is a holiday staple, performed by thousands of dance companies around the world every Christmas. DBDA’s Espresso Nutcracker shakes up traditional ballet. It combines the original score of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker with Duke Ellington’s unique “Nutcracker Suite”. Katricia Eaglin, the director of the Academy, started the production of The Nutcracker Espresso four years ago. Students perform most of the roles, from large group acts to the coveted solo role of the Sugar Plum fairy. What started out as a studio performance grew into a production at the 300-seat Latino Cultural Center, which then turned into a sold-out performance at the Majestic Theater in 2019. “It’s very stressful,” says Katricia Eaglin. “I can see the excitement in the children’s eyes which is very gratifying. And because it’s show week, I can see the anxiety now too. The productions of The Nutcracker, originally choreographed in 1892 by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, generally have a simple screenplay. A young Clara attends a Christmas party, fights giant rats with her Nutcracker, and runs through a snowstorm to Candy Land, where she watches various candies dance. This version follows the same scenario. Choreographically, the Nutcracker Espresso is a bit different from the classic version. Not only does it incorporate Ellington’s more jazz suite, but it also mixes classical ballet movements with contemporary ballet and jazz. It is also shorter, lasting about an hour. “We’re spicing it up a bit,” says Eaglin. “I like our version to be shorter. It’s jazzy, it’s told. Looks like it’s a crowd pleaser too, so it’s fun. The Nutcracker Espresso even adds a new section to the traditional “entertainment” in the Land of Sweetness. In addition to the usual characters, like Chinese tea, Arabic coffee, and waltz flowers, there is even a trip to Africa. This section uses traditional West African choreography and what Eaglin calls “easy-to-listen African music”. It’s a fun addition to the typical story, performed by the younger cast members. Young students from DBDA’s pre-professional division carry the performance, with dancers from the Dallas Black Dance Theater appearing in selected supporting roles, as parents on the party stage. Pre-professional students have the chance to perform on a real stage in this production, whether as one of the many snowflakes in the Snow Scene or as a soloist in Candy Land. This is the opportunity for them to show their skills. Most of the students in the pre-professional division of DBDA take dance lessons four to five times a week. Eaglin has found it gratifying to see their hard work pay off. “It’s very gratifying for me to watch their growth,” she says. “To be able to offer it to our community in Dallas. Presentation of students of color in tip. Offer the possibility to the pre-professional division to have its own production. The fact that they have the opportunity to come together as a division and put on a performance, I think it’s gratifying for me to see, as an instructor, as director of the Academy and in as a former professional. The times of a pandemic have of course brought inevitable changes to production. The most important changes are in size, both in the cast of dancers and in the audience. Although the Majestic can hold approximately 1,600 people, it will not operate at full capacity. The cast, too, will shrink. Past productions have used around 80 young dancers, but this year will use around 35 dancers. Advanced dancers will perform in multiple roles to make up for the reduced size of the cast. This is just one way to test the courage of these aspiring ballerinas. In addition to changing modes between parts, many will perform the pointe dance rite of passage for the first time in front of an audience. The young women who make up the vast majority of the Academy’s dancers will stand, twirl, and balance on tiptoes. While pointe work is no small feat (or feet), the chance to dance on pointes is a dream of many young ballerinas. Getting your pointe shoes out of the studio’s training ground to take the stage is a defining moment. “Part of the goal of The Nutcracker Espresso is to give them the opportunity to really flex their skills and really hone their skills at the cutting edge,” said Eaglin. Some of these students will even have the chance to don tutus and dance lead roles, like the Spanish soloist or the Snowflake Queen. A dancer will take on the enormous challenge of the Sugar Plum fairy, a role that is often considered the pinnacle of leading roles in classical ballet canon. With some of the most iconic music in all of ballet and the dreamy pink tutu, the Sugar Plum fairy has a tough variation that even professional dancers struggle with. “Sugar Plum and I have had private rehearsals since August to get her ready. The talent and the potential have been there for years, ”says Eaglin. “She’s been at the Academy since she was six, so it’s a great culminating performance of all her training, to be able to have that lead role.” For ballet students the chance to dance on such a stage is huge. The chance for a teenager to dance a leading role is even greater. Nutcracker week, filled with grueling rehearsals on top of regular schoolwork, puts even the smallest of dancers through long hours, itchy costumes, and detailed corrections. It’s a tall order, with a wonderful payoff, Eaglin notes. “I hope the students know this, and maybe even if they don’t realize it now, they’ll look back and think, ‘Wow, I did something right, and I didn’t. was only nine years old. Look at me. I can do everything.'”
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