Connecticut Concert Ballet presents ‘The Nutcracker’

By Edith Zeldes
For the Journal Inquirer
December 16, 2004

MANCHESTER — It’s not only the season to be jolly, to make up your presents list for family and friends, and to enjoy eggnog, Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses, but also to look forward to annual performances of “The Nutcracker.”

The Connecticut Concert Ballet is continuing to keep this holiday favorite alive on Saturday, Dec. 18, and Sunday, Dec. 19, at Bailey Auditorium, Manchester High School , with traditional characters, colorful costumes, and creative choreography.

“Ever since 1997, when we began with CCB, we still see to it our productions do not become too predictable: to keep our choreography evolving into new numbers, and adding new scenes, such as the current Snow Scene with its Snow Crystals, plus the new Peppermint Stick Dance and the Chinese Ribbon Dance,” says Wendy Fish-Lawrence , co-artistic director with her husband, David Lawrence.

Fish-Lawrence continues as the Sugarplum Fairy and Lawrence as Sugarplum Cavalier, heading a cast of more than 200 that includes a double cast for two of the four performances.

“I’m in awe of how our productions have evolved from just 60 performers to the huge presentation it is today, including the Saturday shows with the Manchester Symphony Orchestra,” says Fish-Lawrence.

Welcome the Von Stahlbaum Christmas Eve family party. Cheer the Von Stahlbaum’s daughter Clara as she fights off the evil mice.

Join her as she is transported to the Land of Snow amidst dancing icicles and snowflakes.

And become part of the excitement of a joyous celebration with the Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen.

A new addition to the ballet is the appearance of Bill McGurk, Rockville Bank president and CEO, making his debut as the mayor in the opening scene. “I’m looking forward to the experience as a great opportunity to support CCB. The Rockville Bank sent out 30,000 stuffers to all our account holders publicizing the ballet. We also exhibit their posters in the bank,” says McGurk.

“McGurk has appeared in the Johnson Memorial Hospital Fashion Show and on radio talk shows,” Rockville Bank spokeswoman Lori Rosner says. “He’s our personality for the bank.”

Reprising his role from last season as Herr Drosselmeyer is Manchester resident and magician Gary Gross.

Gross has performed throughout the world as Dr. Gross.

“My fun challenge is to blend holiday magic with the magic of CCB’s music, theatrics, and dancing,” he says. “I will be levitating a glass of water, producing a great candy cane, and of course, bringing forth the nutcracker. New this time is my levitating Clara.

“I’ve been letting my hair grow for a couple of months, and at 6 feet and 3 inches tall, I’m beginning to look more like my character, wild and intimidating,” Gross says. “Seeing the show is an excellent way for parents and grandparents to introduce their children and grandchildren to the world of music, dance, acting, and magic.”

Kerri DeNies, 17, a Manchester High School senior, is portraying the Dewdrop Fairy and an icicle. DeNies has grown up with CCB and is now in her 11th year with the company. She was dancing even before age 5.

“I had a hip disease when I was 5, wore a brace for a year, and went through physical therapy,” she says.

“That made me want to dance even more. From starting as a student and having every part in ‘The Nutcracker’ that you could think of, including Clara when I was 10 and 12, I became an assistant to Wendy, and am now a member of the faculty.”

DeNies’s sister Rebecca, 13, has also been a longtime CCB student and will be the Columbine Doll in the party scene, as well as a snowflake and a flower.

“We both love dancing and appear together in the Snow Scene,” Kerri DeNies says. “It’s sad that this may be the last time for both of us to perform together. I hope to continue to work in education with elementary grade children.”

Wardrobe mistress Nancy Silveira continues to spin her magic surrounded by a fantasy world of costumes.

“I’m in my 16th year with CCB and the performances have definitely gotten bigger and better,” she says.

Performances are at Bailey Auditorium, Manchester High School, 134 E. Middle Turnpike, on Saturday, Dec. 18, at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 19, also at 2 and 7 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults, $12 for students and senior citizens, and $7 for children 5 and under.

Tickets are available at Dance Village, 171 Spencer St.; Creative Toymaker, 43 Welles St., Glastonbury (checks only); Crandall & Daughter, 544 Buckland Road, South Windsor (checks only); and Noveltees, 81 Tolland Turnpike, Vernon.