HP’s annual ‘Nutcracker’ Is a community affair

In his last appearance as a student dancer with the Hyde Park School of Dance, Henry Meltzer Cassel (foreground right), dancing the role of Ordell, joins Annesa Dey, dancing the role of Amira, during a ballroom scene of “Amira – A Chicago Cinderella Story.” In the School’s upcoming 25th annual production of the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, Cassel will join the production’s adult cast in the role of Herr Drosselmeyer. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Contributing writer

“The Nutcracker” is the quintessential holiday story. Protagonist Clara and her dreamland take audiences into a world where a wooden nutcracker is the hero, a rat is a villain and magical  sugar plum fairies but real.

The Hyde Park School of Dance will present its annual “Nutcracker” from Friday, Dec. 14, to Sunday, Dec. 16, at Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St., on University of Chicago campus.

August Tye, founding artistic director, said the show is a great way to introduce young people to ballet.

“Our version is very family-friendly,” she said.

Tye said there is a “family” of adults who have performed in the ballet each year for over a decade.

Three years ago, the battle scene was changed from a sword fight to a hip-hop dance battle between the nutcracker prince and the rat king and queen.

“I think it’s important to include anyone who wants to dance in the Nutcracker,” she said. “It shows you can solve your problems without violence. It’s a really fun scene. The kids go crazy when we have our school show.”

Another difference in this year’s show is that Henry Cassel, who has danced in the production since he was three years old, will dance the role of Herr Drosselmeyer.

Cassel, now a senior at the University of Chicago Lab School, said he always liked watching the part.

“This is really special and super fun for my senior year,” he said. “It’s going to be as bittersweet moment.”

Although the Hyde Park School of Dance’s annual performance of the Nutcracker is just days away, founder, ballet mistress and choreographer August Tye (on left) speaks with ballet instructor Teanna Zarro (on right) as they prepare notes for dancers during a rehearsal for the world premiere of “Amira – A Chicago Cinderella Story” at the Reva and Logan Center for the Arts, June 14, 2018. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Cassel has attended two types of rehearsals since October to make sure he has role down: one with the adults for the party scene and another for Drosselmeyer.

“It’s very expressive things to make it a dancing Drosselmeyer and add flavor to the character,” he said. Cassel added that it also will be a fun moment, for him and the other dancers who are seniors and performing in their last “Nutcracker.”

“It will be a nice point of closure and a very fun moment,” he said. “It’s a moving thing that the whole community comes together for that sweet moment.”

There are 12 choreographers for the school’s 75-minute version, which includes 225 performers.

Tye said the choreographers look at what they can do better and try to find better ways to present it every year.

“We try to mix it up and change it up every year so it’s fresh for the kids and for the audience,” she explained. “It’s a big team effort.”

Last year, the party scene in the first act was changed, and Allyson Ratliff, the associate artistic director, said it was done to keep the scene fresh. “We’re always tweaking things for our returning dancers, as well,” she said.

Ratliff, who also is one of the choreographers, said what makes the ballet enjoyable is that it is family-friendly while involving community members of all ages in dance

She said both the choreographers and the students change each year and pointed out that this year’s cast is especially diverse.

“I hope [audiences] appreciate the diversity of our cast,” she said. “We’re presenting a very diverse group of people in this classical art form and doing it beautifully.”

Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for children six to 18 years old and free for those under 6. To purchase tickets, call 773-493-8498 or visit www.hydeparkdance.org/tickets.