Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Ballet for The Ages: Growing Up With The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker is a holiday season tradition for countless young dancers whose annual turn in the Christmas fantasy marks a celebrated rite of passage. The chance to take part in the enchanting production, full of pageantry and splendor, engages the starry-eyed child dancer, while more advanced ballerinas relish opportunities to be cast in progressively more challenging roles.

Franklin’s Shaina McGillis, 18, made her Nutcracker debut with the Franklin Performing Arts Company (FPAC) in 2004 at the age of six. A polichinelle coming out from Mother Ginger’s giant hoop skirt, it was her first time performing on stage. Now a senior at Franklin High School and a veteran of 12 FPAC Nutcrackers, Shaina dances her 13th consecutive year in FPAC’s production this season. She has played most of the ballet’s roles, including little mouse, party girl, little Chinese, marzipan, Clara, Chinese demi-soloist, Chinese soloist, kissy doll, soldier doll, Spanish and Arabian corp, Russian, rose flower, Mouse Queen, candy cane soloist, Nutcracker, Spanish soloist, and Dew Drop. 

Franklin's Shaina McGillis is pictured, center, in this 2015 production photo, dancing the role of Dew Drop
Franklin's Shaina McGillis is pictured, center, in this 2015 production photo, dancing the role of Dew Drop

“Particularly for students who start dancing The Nutcracker at younger ages, the ballet becomes tradition, a treasured part of their holiday season,” says Director/Choreographer Cheryl Madeux, who formerly danced with the Joffrey Ballet, Hartford Ballet and American Ballet Theatre companies. “As dancers continue to train year after year, they develop the maturity, physically and emotionally, to take on more demanding and age-appropriate roles.”

Shaina’s parts in the ballet’s magical snow scene reflect her progression, dancing first as a snow maiden, then as a snowflake and snow princess, and this year as Snow Queen. “The snow scene is exciting,” she says, “and very cool with the live orchestra. There’s a lot going on, and there are many dancers on stage. The snow can be slippery under point shoes. It’s well rehearsed, but you have to be very aware.”

Cast in multiple roles, Shaina will also dance the parts of Spanish soloist and Dew Drop this season. “It’s great to have the opportunity to grow into it,” she says of Dew Drop and the chance to reprise the coveted role. “It’s more artistically challenging, and it’s tiring physically. The stamina is hard.”

Shaina will be joined on stage by her dad, Jim McGillis, who will perform the role of Clara’s father, Herr Silberhaus. This is Jim’s sixth consecutive year as Party Parent in the festive Christmas Eve scene that opens the ballet’s first act. Jim, who used to coach Shaina in soccer, stepped into his Nutcracker role to share a different experience with his daughter when she stopped playing soccer to focus on her ballet training.

“It’s a real team effort,” says Shaina’s mom, Anne McGillis, noting how the sport and ballet production share a spirit of collaboration. “Jim appreciates the athleticism, too, and the way in which the dancers make what is so physically challenging look so effortless.”

“Everyone has to work together,” she continues, “and Ms. Madeux promotes such a positive attitude among the dancers. They really support each other.”

Shaina adds, “Ms. Madeux expects a lot from us, and that makes us work harder.”

A student in the Ballet Conservatory program at the Franklin School for the Performing Arts (FSPA), where Ms. Madeux is Ballet Director, Shaina also studies jazz, tap and contemporary dance at FSPA. Her training has included summer intensive programs at the Joffrey Ballet in San Francisco, Complexions Contemporary Ballet in New York City, and Ballet West Academy in Salt Lake City. Shaina plans to continue dancing in college and aspires to dance professionally.

Reflecting on her last season in FPAC’s The Nutcracker, she says, “It will be bittersweet. It went by so fast.”

FPAC presents The Nutcracker on Saturday, December 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 4 at 2 p.m. at the Franklin High School auditorium, 218 Oak Street. With special guest artists, world-class musicians and more than 100 area dancers, the fairytale ballet features Festival Ballet Providence company dancers Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier and a professional orchestra under the direction of maestro Peter Cokkinias.

“There’s so much excitement around it – the music, the costumes, the choreography – as it all comes together,” Shaina says of the production.

For tickets ($30-$34) and more information, visit www.FPAConline.com or call (508) 528-3370. Rockland Trust Charitable Foundation is FPAC’s 2016 Holiday Sponsor.

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