Just as young dancers dream of becoming the Sugar Plum Fairy, ballet companies dream of having that perfect ballerina perform the role. Three superb dancers are flying into Wichita to star in “The Nutcracker” for Friends University and Ballet Wichita.
“The Nutcracker” combines elements of the 19th-century tale by E.T.A. Hoffman with compositions by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is from the original 1892 Tchaikovsky score. Clara, a young girl, is given a nutcracker for Christmas. Many of the production’s more than 80 dancers join Clara in the land of enchantment where the Sugar Plum Fairy reigns, and a broken doll becomes a prince.
Wendy Whelan, a prima ballerina from New York City Ballet, will dance the technically difficult part of the Sugar Plum Fairy for the Friends’ show on the second weekend.
Abi Stafford, a rising star at New York City Ballet, will dance the part for Friends during its first weekend. Friends’ productions also feature students and dancers from Wichita Ballet Theatre.
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Ballet Wichita’s Fairy, Kathleen "Katie" Martin, dances for Ballet Idaho and stars in the reality television show “Breaking Pointe.”
Each of these dancers stepped up through the ranks. Two were marzipan dancers, one a mouse and another a snowflake. But not one of these ballerinas started out as Clara.
“I was practically all the little kids’ roles,” Whelan said. “But I never was Clara.”
All three grew up dancing — donning tights, learning to leap and practicing pointe. They each grew up on stage — playing parts in “Giselle” and “Sleeping Beauty.” And all three aspired to be a prima ballerina.
Whelan, a native of Kentucky, is known as a ballerina’s ballerina. This NYCB principal has reached star-studded fame — her moves, her musculature and her precision have been applauded by choreographers, critics and fellow dancers.
“The lines she hits are like moving architecture,” said Stan Rogers, the director of Friends’ dance program and “The Nutcracker.” “She is so charming and beautiful on stage.”
Although Whelan has performed dozens of lead roles, she still loves the magic of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“She represents the beauty and elegance to the children that are dreaming the dream,” Whelan said. “They think, ‘I’ll grow up and be this beautiful woman that’s good and kind and lovely.’ ”
Although the Fairy is not on stage for long, her part is difficult and strenuous.
“There are all sorts of difficult leaps and turns,” said Jill Landrith, the artistic director of Ballet Wichita. “It’s such a charming role.”
The part requires dancing on one leg, balancing and pointe. The dancer must also rely on her partner, the Cavalier, for lifts and turns.
“It’s not easy choreography,” Stafford said. “It’s definitely something you work up to.”
Stafford, a native of Pennsylvania, began dancing when she was 6. After seeing its production of “The Nutcracker,” she decided she wanted to dance with the New York City Ballet. She’s been performing with the company since 2000.
Martin, a native of Illinois, says she feels like she’s coming home. Her grandfather, who lives in Olathe, will accompany her parents and sisters to the Wichita performance.
“I’m really excited to fulfill the role,” Martin said. “She’s the most beautiful woman in the whole world.”
James Brougham from Ballet Idaho will perform as the Prince Cavalier for Ballet Wichita’s Nutcracker performance. Chase Finlay and Adrian Danchig-Waring from New York City Ballet will dance this part with Friends’ production.
In addition to performing, Whelan, Stafford, Finlay and Danchig-Waring will teach a workshop for Friends’ students.
Along with teaching adult dancers, Whelan wants to reach out to children. “The Nutcracker” inspired her to dance; she wants to inspire others.
“It might stir up a very young artist in the audience,” Whelan said. “It would give me pleasure to help somebody find their artistic soul.”