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Young ballerinas take center stage at these 'Nutcracker' auditions

A workshop at the Colburn School for the Miami City Ballet production of
A workshop at the Colburn School for the Miami City Ballet production of "The Nutcracker."
James Fayette

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It's beginning to look a lot like ... "Nutcracker" season.

Here in Los Angeles, the Miami City Ballet will perform the holiday classic at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in December. The ballet has about 60 roles for young dancers, and the Colburn School recently held two summer workshops and an audition for those coveted spots.

“When I lived in New York City, I had all these holiday traditions that I would do with my own children,” said Jenifer Ringer, dean of the dance institute at the Colburn School. “When we moved out here to Los Angeles ... I couldn’t find it.”

Ringer is a former principal with the New York City Ballet, where she danced for 24 years. Like any good, card-carrying ballerina, she’s intimately familiar with “The Nutcracker.”

“The ballet was created, I think, with the intention of being a family ballet,” she explained. “So there’s obviously all these children roles. Two of the principal characters — Marie and the Nutcracker Prince — are children, as well as Marie’s little brother, Fritz. There’s a whole scene that takes place in Marie’s house. She gets the Nutcracker doll, and then she goes into a magical snow forest and then onto Candy Land at the end. The ballet wouldn’t exist without the children.”

Miami City Ballet will perform choreographer George Balanchine’s version of “The Nutcracker,” which Ringer considers the gold standard.

“They’re not just sitting there holding a flower and waving back and forth,” she said. “They’re doing actual steps and actual formations. We wanted to bring the Colburn School students’ level up higher so that they’re prepared to do this choreography. So we made these two ‘Nutcracker’ workshops to start getting them used to some of the steps. We have a ballet technique class every morning. While they’re having lunch, we’re showing them film of this particular version of ‘The Nutcracker.’ And then from 12-to-2 we have rehearsals.”

In a morning class, one of the workshop attendees is 10-year-old Josephine Kim from Atwater Village, who started dancing when she was two.

“School is kind of a lot to work with, and then dancing is kind of the opposite of school, ’cause you get to just move around and not do math problems, I guess,” Kim said, laughing.

Amy Sierra, who lives downtown and started dancing when she was four, said: “I’m excited to learn it, because I have actually never been to a ‘Nutcracker’ dance. And when I’ve seen the show [on tape], I see happiness.”

Amy is in the Everybody Dance Program, which provides instruction for kids from underserved communities. Most of the 70 kids at the workshop were Colburn students, but the school also invited Everybody Dance participants.

Asked what she likes most about ballet, Amy said: “I like how it shows your passion and what’s inside of you that no one sees.”

A few weeks later, it’s the big day — auditions. Outside the audition room, a gaggle of nervous parents waited for their pint-sized ballerinas.

“I’m nervous,” admitted Lynn Keyes of Glassell Park, who had two daughters auditioning. “[It's] getting towards the end of the day, and these are the last couple auditions ... so, yeah — parents are excited and worried, and have all the feelings that the kids do.”

Jennifer Ward of Pasadena also had two daughters auditioning.

“I think this is a great experience for the children to go through something," said Ward, "and ... maybe they’re not going to make it this time, but we’ll cowboy up, right? You get up and you try it again. I think that’s what I love about the experience of even having the children trying out.”

Not every kid will be overjoyed with the outcome of their audition, but Keyes said these workshops have prepared them for that.

“The group of children coming from all over Los Angeles, all different types of backgrounds and technique, coming from different studios,” Keyes said. “They have a good time in class, and we’ve seen some kids move on to other auditions. And some kids go home, and they’re just really supportive of each other, [saying]: If we don’t get in this year, we’re gonna go to the show and we’ll support all of our friends that did get in and just appreciate it for the performance that it is.”

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