Beloved holiday ballet has become an annual tradition in Marquette

Scenes from previous versions of the Nutcracker Ballet in Marquette. (Photos courtesy of Camilla Mingay Photography)

By Elizabeth Fust
You’ve probably already heard the tune this season. It’s already gotten stuck in your head since it’s been played in commercials and over the radio, and little girls hum it as they go to and from their dance classes: The Nutcracker Suite. That tune and the story behind it, which began its tradition as a holiday book and most recently a movie adaptation, comes alive this December in Marquette’s community as dancers have come together to put on The Nutcracker Ballet.
The Marquette community Nutcracker was started just over ten years ago, when local studios banded together to put on a production no one could put on alone. The Nutcracker Ballet of Marquette is sponsored by Second Skin Shop and Kaufman Auditorium. Second Skin Shop, the largest dance supply store in the U.P., is located in downtown Marquette. Co-owner Camilla Mingay is the director of the production and meets with local artists and choreographers months in advance to discuss who wants to choreograph which dances set to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. This year, there are nine choreographers splitting the dances among them. That’s nine choreographers managing a production with one hundred dancers with experience ranging from professional to none at all.
It is for these reasons that Marquette’s Nutcracker production is so special. It is open to anyone, whether they come from a local dance studio or have never danced a step in their life. Camilla offers another reason for the performance’s uniqueness when she explains that the parents of children dancing today didn’t have the same opportunities when they were kids. They had to be enrolled at a specific studio if they wanted to dance in The Nutcracker. Since the modern production is sponsored by Second Skin Shop and Kaufman Auditorium, anyone from any studio or no studio at all can participate. That means young dancers can be in a ballet with their friends from school who dance at different studios, as well as have the opportunity to learn new dance styles from different instructors.
The ages of these dancers range from two to eighty in a given year. “Dancers come out of retirement just for the Nutcracker,” Camilla said. Dancers come from the Marquette area, and sometimes from farther across the U.P., to be part of the ballet. All those dancers with different experiences need to learn new steps, memorize them and learn how to truly perform them—all the while ninety-nine or so other dancers are doing the same thing with different steps. It all has to come together in October and November, after auditions are held at the end of September.
One dancer in this year’s Nutcracker who has no previous dance experience is someone many from the area will recognize: State Representative Sara Cambensy of the 109th House District. “My good friend Camilla Mingay asked if I’d be willing to participate,” Cambensy explained. Before being elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, Cambensy filled a Nutcracker role in a different capacity: she was director of Kaufman Auditorium. As director, she was often around community productions like this, and she admits, “I miss being around the kids.” Since Cambensy is playing the role of Mother Ginger, a larger-than-life role, she has the opportunity to be around young performers once again. She will be double tasking—performing with all the Polichinelles (Mother Ginger’s children) and guiding the young dancers (usually the youngest of the production). For Cambensy and her Polichinelles, this is a great opportunity “to perform onstage and be part of something magical.”
One of the young Marquette dancers in this year’s Nutcracker is Stella Huddle. Stella is a third grader at Father Marquette. She is eight years old and has been dancing since she was two. In her years dancing in The Nutcracker, Stella has been in Waltz of the Snowflakes and Spanish Dance and has played a party guest, a mouse and, last year, Francesca (traditionally the role of Fritz). Stella’s favorite role? “Clara!” she said, which is the role she is dancing this year, the main role of The Nutcracker. “Or Francesca,” she added, because in that role she could be “sassy.”
The Nutcracker Ballet is set to the familiar music of Tchaikovsky. In the late nineteenth century, the composer teamed up with choreographers to create a ballet based on the Christmas novel, The Nutcracker and The Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman and its adaption by Alexandre Dumas (author of such famed novels as Robin Hood the Outlaw and The Three Musketeers). The tale focuses on young Clara Stahlbaum, who on Christmas Eve receives a nutcracker soldier from her inventor godfather, Drosselmeyer. As Christmas Eve continues, Clara sees toys come alive to wage battle with evil rats that terrorize her home. She travels through the Land of Sweets and sees dances of flowers, forests, snowflakes and confections from all across the world. Ultimately, she meets the illustrious Sugar Plum fairy. All the toys and finery of Christmas come alive on Christmas Eve for Clara to enjoy. It is a romantic reminder to let oneself be carried away by whimsy during the holiday season, to allow a sense of childlike wonder to mix in with the hustle and bustle.
The Nutcracker is about transformations. Little wooden toys turning into big, strong soldiers. Little rats turning into scary monsters. Little girls becoming the heroes of the day. Worlds of candies and flowers coming alive. It is an ode to childish whimsy and imagination. The production is a place where the everyday Yooper Jane and Joe can go to—for one day at least—be a ballerina or ballerino. Where the audience can reminisce of their magical childhood Christmases or day dream about the Christmas Eve to come. If you would like one winter’s day to be transformed for you, come and support your neighbors in the Marquette community and see The Nutcracker Ballet.
The Nutcracker Ballet will be held at Kaufman Auditorium on December 1st with performances at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Advance tickets are $9 for youth and $15 for adults, with an additional $2 charge for tickets purchased at the door. Tickets are available through NMU EZ Ticket Outlets and from (906) 227-1032 and

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