Grace Raymond is dancing her dream.
Having worked her way up from a mouse, a mouse lieutenant, a candy cane, a gumdrop, a friend, a snowflake, Arabian maiden and waltz finale member, Raymond finally got the email in September that made it true – “Congratulations Grace, you’ve been cast in the role of Clara.”
This is the dream role for most dancers in the holiday play favorite “The Nutcracker.”
“Ever since my first year in The Nutcracker, as the little girl, I have dreamed about performing as Clara,” Raymond said. “Now that it is here, I am so excited about performing and have thoroughly enjoyed rehearsals.”
When Raymond takes the stage for the Tchaikovsky classic, she will play a role she has been working toward getting for nearly eight years. The River Region Ballet is again presenting this seasonal favorite at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 4-5, and on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Destrehan High School Auditorium. A children’s matinee will be held 2 p.m. Dec. 5.
Just staging this production involves a cast of 85 performers.
Featured actors are Steven Fontenot as Uncle Drosselmeyer, Paul Sullivan as the Mouse King, Thomas Eli Brooks, as the Nutcracker, Warren Hovis as the grandfather and Mother Ginger, Henry Sorbet as Mr. Silberhaus, Megan Harms as Mrs. Silberhaus, and Brenden Oster as Fritz. Also performing in the Party scene are Darby Berthelot, Delaney Carson, Karrie Hovis, Joshua Hymel, Evan Keller, Shelley Keller, Robert Oster, Stacey Payne, and Erika Spengler.
“It’s been nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time,” said the 14-year-old of her performance. “I know when it comes to performances it’ll be good. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
In this role, she has to dance and act, which is challenging to a teen whose focus has been dancing.“Before the performances, I’m really nervous, but once I’m on the stage it’s like, “I have this,” Raymond said. “And it happens.”
The Destrehan resident is practical and methodical about her life, acknowledging her success is based on hard work and not giving up.
A honor roll student at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, she is studying dancing at River Region Ballet School of Dance under the direction of ToniAnn Chetta and previously studied at Imagers Dance Studio for eight years. She performed in ballets such as The Sleeping Beauty, Peter and the Wolf, Thumbelina, The Fairy Garden, Cinderella and The Nutcracker.
She isn’t sure if dancing is her career, but she knows it’s her passion now and she gives it her all.
“It’s something I’ve loved to do for many years,” Raymond said. “It really shows a good way to communicate your feelings. It’s a good outlet for stress.”
As she stepped her role in the Nutcracker over these years, she understood playing the mouse opened the door to stepping her style as a dancer and learning from the older dancers.
“You can learn something new and you can see the older ones and you strive to dance like them and as well as they do,” Raymond said. “When I was a little girl in the Nutcracker I saw my sister dance as Clara and when I saw what fun she had and I wanted to dance as Clara. I saw other Claras and saw that each year it would be a different Clara and it would be cool to how much they were having with it.”
Her discipline comes from her dancing teachers, she said.Johanna Raymond, Grace’s mother, agreed.
“I have no idea,” she said of why her three daughters have gotten into dancing so much. In fact, Grace’s two older sisters have both played Clara. “It’s not me. It’s them because I was never a dancer.”
Even so, she said she’s proud of them and hopes her youngest, Grace, pursues dancing as a career.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s unbelievable that this much time has gone by that she’s worked her way from a mouse in the Nutcracker to the star role of Clara.”
The considerable work that Grace has applied to dancing has translated into lots of practice, but Johanna said all her daughters love it and both she and their father, Bobby, want them to do something they enjoy.
For Grace, playing Clara has been her dream since she was a little girl, particularly after seeing her sisters in the role, which her mother adds, “She definitely wanted her shot.”
Tickets may be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com. All seats are reserved. Tickets may also be purchased at the door: $25 full-length performances, $20 for Sugar Plum Matinee. Cash and checks only are accepted at the door.
The program is supported by a grant from United Way of St. Charles; the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Arts Council New Orleans and by the River Region Arts and Humanities Council.