Friday, November 15, 2013

Sugar Plum Dreams Performing Arts studio has built a well-earned reputation not only as, "The place you go, the place you stay", but also as the place you go if you intend to go far. Its roster of recent alums and current students finding bigger and brighter spotlights for well-honed natural talent is both impressive and growing. Combining excellent technique classes with award- winning choreography and a plethora of performance opportunities for its young pupils, is a launching pad and the sky, it would seem, presents no limit.

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,'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 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 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'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, 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 dancers will make the trip to see her performance on the heels of their own Nutcracker production. 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

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