WILKES-BARRE —Moments earlier, they’d been part of an audience that screamed and cheered its appreciation for the dancers in “The Nutcracker” ballet, but at intermission, several little girls quietly considered which roles they’d most like to have.
“I like Klara the best,” said 8-year-old Emma Murphy, who attends the Wyoming Valley Montessori School.
“I’d like to be the snow queen,” said 8-year-old Ella Stambaugh from Good Shepherd Academy.
As for 9-year-old Irelyn Curley, also from Good Shepherd Academy, while she admitted she’d been rooting for the Nutcracker Prince to come out on top in his epic sword battle, she did think his nemesis, the Mouse King, had a fun part.
Indeed, one of the most humorous performances in “The Nutcracker,” as presented by The Degnan Ballet Center at the Wilkes University Conservatory, had to be Michael Rogers pounding his fists against the stage floor and stiffening into rodent-style rigor mortis as the Mouse King met his fate.
This morning, children from Wilkes-Barre’s Dodson and Kistler elementary schools and Kingston’s Chester Street School, Good Shepherd Academy and Wyoming Valley Montessori School enjoyed his antics, plus all the beauty of swirling snowflakes, dancing flowers and magic dolls coming to life, during a special school performance of the holiday classic.
Shows for the public continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts.
Audience members who have attended Wilkes University theatrical productions may recognize some of the college thespians in the ballet, not just portraying members of the Stahlbaum family or their guests in the opening party scene, but dancing in more technically demanding roles, complete with teddy bear-style split jumps and Russian-style squat kicks .
“I’ve never had so many guys,” choreographer and Director of Dance Kristin Degnan-Boonin said, marveling that she was able to cast four young men in the Arabian dance and three in the Russian dance. “I just kept building.”
Wilkes University junior Sarah Hoffman, who is studying mathematics and education, dances the major role of Klara, the girl who receives a special nutcracker gift from her mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer.
“This is one of the best dance experiences I’ve had,” she said after the morning show, smiling as she recalled that her first participation in a performance of “The Nutcracker” took place near her home in York County when she was “just a little pipsqueak.”
In a role known as “the Crown Jewel Child,” the one-time pipsqueak presented a gleaming headpiece to the young woman who portrayed Klara.
“Now, here I am Klara,” she said. “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”
Klara and her Nutcracker Prince journey into an enchanted Land of Sweets, where they met dancers who represent angels, flowers and various edible treats from Spain, Arabia, Russia, China and Germany. Presiding over this magical land are the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced in this production by visiting artists Julie Degnan and Rubén Suárez.
Julie Degnan, who is back in the United States after studying in Tallinn, Estonia, with the Estonian National Ballet, is the daughter of Kristin Degnan-Boonin, and the late Peter Degnan, and anyone who remembers seeing her parents dance likely will recognize that their artistry and athleticism live on.
“I do feel like I’m reliving it,” Degnan-Boonin said after watching her daughter leap lightly onto Suárez’s shoulders in the final pas de deux.
After the show, Julie Degnan reminisced about growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and learning dance from her first teachers.
“I looked up to my parents, and I always heard the story how they met through dance and they fell in love. I always wondered, ‘Would that happen to me?’ ‘What would it be like?’”
She has been experiencing that joy — Suárez is her boyfriend — and said it’s “the greatest gift you can have.”
The Sugar Plum Fairy also credited her summer studies in Estonia with renewing her enthusiasm for ballet.
She’d been injured months earlier, when she was “dropped six feet and landed on my side” in rehearsal with the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, and went through a period of questioning her commitment. “It was very hard for me,” she said.
“I think I forgot who I was,” she said, crediting the artists of the Estonian National Ballet with helping her “get back to my happy place again.”