Entering its 18th year on stage in St. Charles Parish, the annual performance of The Nutcracker by the River Region Ballet at Destrehan High School is in the works once again.
Susan Ferrara, artistic director of the River Region Ballet, said she enjoys putting on the production each year.
"For a lot of people in the area it is a part of their Christmas tradition and they come to the Nutcracker every year," Ferrara said. "Itís exciting for the kids, especially this day in age when kids are so used to videos and television and movies that a lot of people and children in particular have never seen live entertainment."
Ferrara has been directing the ballet since its inception. She said she intends to put on the annual performance for as long as she is able.
"I am the original artistic director from the very beginning," Ferrara said. "Itís going to go until something tells me it is not needed anymore. There are no plans to stop it at all. Iím not getting any younger, but hopefully Iíll do it for many years from now."
Ferraraís work with the River Region Ballet comes in addition to maintaining her own dance studio.
"I own Images Dance Studio in Destrehan where I mainly teach ballet. I do teach other things like tap and jazz classes," Ferrara said. "Of the older dancers, I would say 98 percent of them come from my studio since I specialize in ballet."
This year the ballet will feature an estimated 75 performers that range in age from five-year-olds to adults.
With only eight weeks of rehearsal, Ferrara said the production schedule is tight.
"Kids are in school and we have working people so we can only rehearse on the weekends," Ferrara said. "The most we can have is eight rehearsals before we can get to the theatre."
Ferrara said, despite the short production schedule, performing the ballet year-in and year-out makes it easier because the dancers get a chance to learn it from a very young age and grow up with the production.
"As weíve done it, the quality of the dancers has improved because so many of the girls do it every year from the time they are little until the time they are older," Ferrara said. "It also makes it easier for me rehearsal-wise in teaching people because everybody is kind of familiar."
Ferrara said that depth of experience is most evident in this yearís lead character Clara, as performed by Elizabeth Gilmore.
"She is 15 and she probably started when she was three so my guess is she has been studying with me for 12 years," Ferrara said. "You talk to any of the girls, they have been wanting to be Clara from the first time they were up."
Gilmore is a Destrehan resident and the daughter of David and Marie Gilmore. She has danced in numerous past productions with the River Region Ballet including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, La Boutique Fantasque, Thumbelina and the Fairy Garden.
Elizabeth has performed in The Nutcracker for the past eight years and has come up through the ranks.
"I am so excited to be Clara, not just because itís an important role, but because I have dreamed of dancing this role since I was five years old. It is what made me strive to become a better dancer," Gilmore said.
In addition to grooming dancers throughout the years, professional guest dancers are brought in to perform with the troupe each year.
This year, dancers Jessica Fry McAllister and Ramon Gaitan are reprising their roles as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier and the Snow Queen and King .
"Jessica is originally from New Orleans. Most of my guest artists over the years have been, more so than not, local dancers that have went off and danced professionally and come back.," Ferara said. "It is always nice because they get to come back and dance in their hometown and their families donít always get to see them dance because they are always dancing in other cities."
McAllister has danced with several professional companies including Ballet Austin, Colorado Ballet, Montgomery Ballet as well as being a principal at the Ballet Theatre of Maryland. She has been based out New Orleans for the past year after giving birth to her first child.
Gaitan is a native of Nicaragua who is based out of New York. He has danced with the Richmond Ballet, the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dayton Ballet and Ballet Grandiva.
For Ferrara, ballet is more than just putting on a show, it is a passion.
"I feel very strongly that the arts are important because of the human contact and the creativity and the imagination and I just feel that the arts add so much to your life if you get into it whether you are a spectator or whether you participate," Ferrara said. "So itís what I do and I like it a lot so I am just out there promoting it as best I can."
The full length version of The Nutcracker will be performed on Saturday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.
A special Childrenís Matinee will be also be performed on Dec. 8 at 3 p.m., which will be followed by The Sugar Plum Party.
"Our childrenís special matinee is a one-hour long version. Itís been pared down for younger children," Ferrara said. "At the end there is a question and answer period if anyone has questions. And we have what is called ĎThe Sugar Plum Partyí where they are invited onto the stage. They get to sit on the props and they get to actually meet the characters and take pictures of the characters. They also get a gift from the Sugar Plum Fairy."
All performances are at Destrehan High School Auditorium at 1 Wildcat Lane in Destrehan.
Tickets for the full-length performances are $15 through Nov. 30. Beginning Dec. 1, tickets will only be available at the door at a cost of $20. Tickets for childrenís special matinee are $10 at the door.
For ticket information call (504) 202-7706 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.