Friday, November 15, 2013
One such opportunity, the studio's biennial production of The Nutcracker in collaboration with Blacksburg Ballet, SME, and DCVT has been as much a part of the holidays for area families as stuffing stockings and laying out sugary treats for Santa or carrots for Rudolph on Christmas Eve. And preparations are already underway for this year's rendering of the classic tale, to be staged at Burruss Auditorium on Saturday, December 14, 2013, at 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Audience members will be treated to performances by professional soloists and guest artists, and even the youngest of spectators will recognize Blacksburg celebrity, the Hokie Bird, delighting audiences with a return appearance.
Once again the show's run features a field trip on Friday, December 13, 2013, for fortunate students from area schools. This offering is designed to realize a primary aim of the organization, described by longtime director, Karen Stemen, "The field trip opportunities help fulfill our mission of educating the public through the art of ballet and bringing the arts into the classrooms of young ballet patrons." This 55-minute excerpt offers just enough sugar plum magic and battling mice to whet the appetites of a young audience eager to share Clara's fantastical journey into a land where a damaged doll metamorphoses into the heroic prince of her dreams.
Stepping into Clara's slippers for the opening act is BMS eighth grader, Miss Meredith Hertweck. When asked about taking on the seminal role, the young ballerina's excitement was palpable, "Having grown up doing Nutcracker, I was really hoping this could be my year. I am very excited." Nearly as thrilling as winning the role of her dreams is the opportunity to share the spotlight with one of her mentors, Ms.Kaitlin Shreckhise.
For Shreckhise, a veteran of 15 presentations of Nutcracker over the span of her two decades as a dancer, Dance.tech's practice of presenting performance opportunities where more experienced teachers are invited to share the stage with their young pupils affords her an occasion she had not dared to hope might come again, "I am so, so excited to be dancing alongside my students. I really didn't think I would ever have an opportunity to perform again, especially in another Nutcracker. The Nutcracker has always been my favorite ballet because it, for a lack of a better word, feels like home. Being that I have performed in it every year from age 3 to 18, there is something so familiar and comforting about it. I have certainly missed it these last few years, and I am ecstatic to have it back in my life again. I am thankful everyday for being able to teach and do what I love, and I am even more thankful for my students. They are the ones who make my job possible, enjoyable, challenging, and exciting. I am grateful for them, and I feel so honored to get to dance with them in this performance." 'Tis a busy season for Ms. Shreckhise, who will grace the stage in the coveted role of the Sugar Plum Fairy a mere month after joining the ranks of Ted speakers at VT's own TedX event.
Assuming Clara duties for the second act is Dance.tech pointe instructor Catie Cheek, " I will be playing Dream Clara and am really looking forward to training for the Nutcracker alongside the students that I teach - I think it is a great lesson in remembering that you can learn as much from your pupils as they learn from you. Meredith, who plays Little Clara, is a very hard-working dancer and I think that combining our passions for ballet will make for a very successful Clara for Blacksburg Ballet's Nutcracker!" Cheek trained with the Dance Conservatory in Delaware and performed with the Ballet Theatre of Dover during her high school years. In addition to her teaching duties, she is a fifth-year Industrial Design student at Virginia Tech and a Resident Advisor in the Honors Residential College.
All three dancers have every reason to be excited, particularly when each considers the heights to which many of their predecessors have risen since enjoying their own time in the Blacksburg spotlight. 2011 Nutcracker Prince Nick Grubbs is in his sophomore year in NYU's esteemed Tisch School of the Arts. Emily Hall, who played the Snow Queen in 2009 to Grubbs' Prince, is lighting up Harrisonburg stages as part of James Madison University's dance program.
Anyone familiar with Dance.tech would not be surprised to learn that Hall has also appeared on the JMU Dean's list or to dig out an old Bruins yearbook and find Grubbs pictured in a National Honor Society photo. One aspect of the studio's training regimen that delights parents and impresses teachers of DT performers is the unfailing work ethic it instills. A visitor to the studio is more likely than not to find clusters of dancers poring over Algebra or drafting term papers between classes. Dancing in a stringent program such as Dance.tech's not only produces quality on stage, but propels students to excellence in academics as well. Balancing the demands of as many as 16 hours of classes and rehearsals each week with school requirements breeds time-management and self-discipline that will serve these young people admirably, whether their career paths lead to Broadway or the boardroom.
For at Dance.tech, students are encouraged to dance with stars in their eyes but never allowed to forget that hard work and dedication to training are the surest means to reaching their dreams. Many dancers train year-round, taking full advantage of summer intensive opportunities, each of which comes as a result of an intense audition process. Summer 2012 found Hertweck busy in the Radford University Summer Ballet intensive, while fellow dancers Maggi Weissman and Erica Boerth travelled as far as Atlanta to train with the Joffrey Ballet. Both girls are featured in this winter's upcoming Nutcracker production, alongside Erinn Stephenson, fresh off a 5-week summer intensive with the School of the Richmond Ballet.
Lindy Mesmer, a 6th grade student, spent much of her summer competing at the New York City Dance Alliance national competition in New York City and training with the Bolshoi Ballet in Nutmeg, CT. At the same time her fellow dancers are busily spinning sugar plum dreams into reality, Lindy is in the midst of preparations to take the stage with the world-famous Radio City Rockettes, offering her own interpretation of Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Lindy got her Nutcracker start as one of Mother Ginger's Children, progressed a few years later to a featured solo part as a music box, and is now poised to take her talents to a larger venue at Radio City Music Hall. Excited Dance.tech dancers will make the trip to see her performance on the heels of their own Nutcracker production.
Dance.tech Performing Arts studio is launching young dancers with big dreams, ensuring that they have the discipline, drive and training to reach their destinations. Locals interested in seeing these stars of tomorrow would do well to reserve their tickets today.
Reserved tickets for the 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. December 14th performances may be purchased at the Blacksburg Ballet office, located at 1101 North Main Street in Blacksburg, and are $12 for adults and $8 for children age 12 and under. Tickets purchased through the UUSA ticket office on the Virginia Tech campus are $15 for adults and $10 for children age 12 and under. Student and senior groups of 8 or more may call to request discounted rates. For more information or to reserve seats today, please call (540) 961-6666 or visit www.tickets.vt.edu.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Friday, July 12, 2013
There are a myriad of issues to confront as a young girl navigates those tumultuous years between 10 and 20, and self- acceptance is at the top of this seemingly endless list. Fiona's fictional struggle to accept her ogreish nature is not far removed from the very real effort required by a young woman to deal with the sprouting of hair in novel places, the growth of breasts and the looming onset of menstruation, all of which, to her, seem to appear overnight, much like the verdant hue of Fiona's skin (can we say acne?), her broad nose and her oversized ears. Like Fiona's parents, tween moms and dads spot these changes coming a mile away. We may cringe at Harold and Lillian's decision to lock their princess away in the obligatory tower with only a dragon for company, but is it really that far a cry from the manner in which parents often envelop their daughters in a cocoon of silence accompanied only by their own confused musings or the images presented by today's media (Miley could very well be the new dragon- recent haircut choices make me wonder). Both choices are motivated by an honest fear, with the unpredictable ogre whose size and appearance make her difficult to manage mirroring a burgeoning sexuality that is at times seemingly impossible to subdue. But the effects of both are equally damaging.
Unable to process her struggle with the aid of her parents, Fiona turns to Donkey, whose advice eventually helps her to accept herself. I suspect her ability to do so has more to do with the outcome of true love's first kiss than the dictates of the spell. Today's girl would do well to surround herself with such pals, preferably with better table manners and a stronger intuition regarding her need for occasional privacy. Excepting involved parents unafraid to confront the realities of her transformation from girl to woman, a strong circle of trusted friends is a girl's strongest asset in her sojourn from childhood to adulthood, and while she can do without either of the two if absolutely required to do so, one can not be foregone in the absence of the other.
To be fair, had Snow White or Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty been given a sequel, perhaps one of them would have moved beyond the wedding with the promise of a problem-free happily ever after to become a suitable millennial heroine. Without the sequel, Fiona would not have the opportunity to model so beautifully the handling of the dichotomous existence that is teenage life and tweendom. Fiona is most herself in the swamp, happily splashing in a mud bath with Shrek or goofing around with Donkey without concern for social convention or parental approval. Yet when the invitation to Far Far Away comes, she does not hesitate, knowing that her acceptance of herself remains inauthentic until she returns home and presents society and her parents with the choice to accept her as she is. Her nervous gestures as she and her less than charming prince make the trek from carriage to palace steps belie her uncertainty as to how they will choose despite her earlier assertions to Shrek that of course her parents would accept her because she was their own. Oh, that all adolescents, particularly those struggling with matters of sexual identity, could truly have such confidence. The inclusion of this uncertainty, aside from its obvious comic effect, guarantees that young viewers will identify with a figure confronting her inability to remain the little girl her parents and community want her to be if she is to truly inhabit the person of the individual she is meant to be.
In the pages of Fiona's diary Shrek learns of the future for which his bride once longed, an easy existence complete with an idealized mate whom her parents accept unreservedly and a flawless beauty that is the talk of all of Far Far Away. When Shrek imbibes the potion that restores Fiona to human form, Fiona is confronted with the opportunity to have her childhood dream come true. She can bestow the requisite kiss on her "new and improved" husband, retain the blessing of her parents, and enjoy the spoils of her inheritance. She has had a foretaste of this in that painfully awkward interlude when Charming masquerades as Shrek. It is fitting in the end that he is revealed as the true ogre, as the boys of our adolescent fantasies almost invariably are. But in the final analysis Fiona realizes what the audience has known from the opening credits- that to ask Shrek to relinquish his true nature for her will ultimately render him something less than what she wants and a diminished version of what she truly needs to achieve happiness. it is not an accident that her father is exposed as a frog, yet another point of relatability for a young audience. Her realization that he is less than the kingly figure she doubtless worshipped as a child emboldens her to let go of her childish vision of her future to embrace a mature perspective and gain true love, a love that has not sprung to life as if by magic but has been conceived in the crucible of crisis, sorely tested by forces both external and internal, and found to be the real thing.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
A dear friend recently posted this on Facebook and was thoughtful enough to tag me, writing a blurb about her admiration for women who raise children without the benefit of a dad in the home. After my initial reaction of pride and appreciation, I was struck by the irony that this graphic did the opposite of its probable intent by its creator: It reminded me how not alone I truly am. And it gave me the inspiration to unmask the true superheroes who guarantee this every day.
You see, Ella has an entire army of dads at her disposal every day of the week. Most of them are not related to her biologically, none of them live in her house, not a single one is romantically involved with her mother. Nonetheless, they are Ella's dads, men who take the extra time to give my girl the positive male attention and encouragement that will help to prevent her from becoming a sad statistic, one who seeks male attention from less honorable boys and suffers potentially disastrous consequences.
The rest of the world proceeds unaware of their Superhero status. But in Ella's eyes there is nothing they can't do, and in my heart lies the assurance that there is nothing they wouldn't do for her. Every single one is.a Clark Kent in his daily life. But make no mistake, these are super men.
Gary Kitts came into Ella's life in 2008, when he reconnected with his childhood friend, my mother, and fell in love. For Ella, the phenomenon of these two falling for one another was secondary. Tuff Kitts was her Papa at first sight. He is the man who shows Ella with every interaction with his wife exactly how a man treats a woman he loves. He has set the bar sky high for any future Romeos who come to call, and you can be sure that any boy who wants to so much as buy her yogurt had better pass muster with Papa first. Gary, or Papa Tuff as Ella refers to him, has a gift for making Ella feel special. When they are together, there is no one else in the world. Ella has nary a worry when the Dads and Donuts flyers are circulated at school as some girls of single mothers might. She knows Papa is just the man for the occasion. He is her source of sugar products when there are none at home, her guide in the forest when she is on the hunt, and the proudest spectator in the auditorium when she dances.
I'f Gary Kitts were not my father, I would want Bruce Board to be. All my life he has been there for me, and he carries that tradition on with Ella. Ella has the privilege of witnessing one of the healthiest father-daughter relationships I have seen when she spends time with Great Uncle Bruce and Cousin Casey. If a boy somehow manages to secure the approval of her Papa, then he better have the good humor, affection and genuine warmth of her Uncle Bruce, because this is the yardstick by which Ella will measure the future father of her own children. Bruce never fails to engage Ella about the things that matter to her and his hugs and warm meals are always certain to satisfy.
Andy Wert, Brian Kitts and Jim Kitts
Being the brother of a single woman with a young daughter may appear burdensome to lesser men, but my brothers three take it in stride and each exhibits paternal qualities that provide Ella with security, fun, and love. From my brother Andy's quiet strength and constancy, Ella gleans a sense of security and serenity. The fiercest of storms may rage outside the beach house we rent together each summer, but with Uncle Andy around, fear is the farthest thing from Ella's mind.. Uncle Brian, with his unrelenting mischief and spirit of fun, provides an element of levity for a girl who spends the bulk of her time with her very intense mother. Uncle Jim hosts Ella every spring for a week and makes no distinction between his own girls and Ella when she is there.
Kyle was one of Ella's earliest dance coaches. He instilled a discipline and work ethic in Ella that she to this day carries with her into every dance class and rehearsal. It crosses the threshold of the schoolhouse door every morning and ensures that her diet is impeccably healthy. In the midst of all those tutus and little girls in buns, he noticed her. Girls need to be noticed for the right reasons, and Kyle did that for Ella. When he left the studio to pursue other opportunities, Ella vocalized her devastation at losing a "Dad". How thrilling for her last November to learn that he had seen her solo at Jump and was proud, not because she had executed the choreography flawlessly or won the approbation of the judges, but because he could see the fruits of those early lessons in how to work hard for what you want to achieve and was moved that she had developed the confidence to try. That text from him meant more than any trophy ever could.
I owe each of these men a debt I can never repay. And this blog entry is a paltry token of appreciation. But I want each of them to always know that Ella and I are not fooled by their Clark Kent demeanors. Each time we see them, we see their capes flying and our spirits soar.
So despite what the graphic says, I am no superhero- I just know where to find them.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Monday, July 8, 2013
Saturday, December 19, 2009
As I write this, Ella is downstairs painting her nails with the girl who lives across the street and we are snowed in with 18 inches of God’s frozen creation on the ground and more falling as part of the biggest storm to hit Virginia in ten years. We, apparently, are in for a very white Christmas.
In truth, the deluge of snow is apropos as I sit down to reflect upon the last year in our household. For this year, as in years past, God has opened up his bag of wonders and mercies and poured them down upon us. Every year I am certain He cannot possibly outdo Himself from the year before. And then He does.
Spring brought the completion of Ella’s kindergarten year at Tall Oaks Montessori and the end of her time there. Saying goodbye was especially poignant as her best friend in all the world, Lindsey Cliff, moved away in June. But summer camps brought her a fresh crop of new friendships and exciting experiences, from inventing rockets to dancing at Stepping Out to horseback riding. We capped off Ella’s summer with a family trip to the beach with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents on the heels of Aunt Kim and Uncle Brian’s wedding.
My summer was anything but mundane. Around Valentine’s Day, Mike asked me what parts of the world I wanted to see. The next thing I knew, we were planning an ten-day trip to Italy for June. It was amazing and awesome and wonderful to explore one of the most romantic countries in the world with the person who defines romance for you. From the Alps to Venice to the Lamborghini factory in Modena, we covered 1500 miles in 8 short days. It was a journey I will never forget!
Fall brought the return of familiar routines in unfamiliar settings as Ella started first grade at Kipps Elementary. It took maybe a week for Kipps to feel like home. I am in the office on Mondays and in her classroom on Thursdays, and we both feel embraced by the learning community there. Ella was invited to join the Performing Arts Company at Dance Tech this year and danced the role of an angel in the Nutcracker. She is a second-year Daisy Girl Scout and a dedicated Melody choir member.
I am continuing my work at VTTI and my role as supportive taxi driver and planner of weekend events for Mike, Ella and me. This year we have been exploring fun things to do in Greensboro, N.C., discovering new restaurants (Fatz Café in Dublin is a new favorite, as well as Zaxby’s in Salem), and enjoying the wonder of being in one place together.
I continue to marvel at Mike’s ability to balance the demands of running a business with his usual stellar contribution to our partnership. His willingness to share everything with me and his infectious passion for the things he cares about combine to keep a sparkle in my eye and a spring in my step even on the longest of days.
In this blessed season of celebration and awe as we rejoice in the coming of our Savior once more, our family extends to yours our warmest wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!