Dorio Perez: Bringing the toymaker to life

Dorio Perez has danced many parts in many ballets over his 30-year career, but he considers "The Nutcracker" to be "one of the nicest pieces ever written."

Next weekend, Perez, a British native who spent most of his dancing career with Houston Ballet, will play the role of Herr Drosselmeyer in Ballet Wichita's performance of the Nutcracker.

Perez has danced in the Christmas classic since he was 11 and has performed the role of Drosselmeyer at least 20 times. Just two weeks ago he played the role in a production in Houston and will bring the toymaker to life for the second year in a row with Ballet Wichita.

In the ballet written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Drosselmeyer is a magical figure who brings toys to children at a Christmas Eve celebration. He gives a special nutcracker to young Clara, opening a door to a winter fantasy that has captivated audiences since the ballet's premiere in 1892.

"He's a magical type of entertaining conjurer who basically loves children and wants to see their smiling faces," Perez said. He has danced the role of the Cavalier in "The Nutcracker" many times, but says he prefers to play the dramatic characters like Drosselmeyer because "they are much more juicy."

Perez's dance career started in London, then took him to the National Ballet in Washington, D.C., to Chicago, and then to the Houston Ballet for the final 23 years of his career. He moved to Wichita last year after his wife found a job here.

At the age of 5, Perez attended dance lessons along with his sister. He explains that his mother told him she enrolled him in dance because she worried he "would have torn the house up" if left alone during his sister's lessons.

He found himself drawn to the world of dance and classical music. "Just being able to dance to music ... it was a pleasure to do."

His breakthrough role, he said, came in a highly theatrical piece called "Prodigal Son (in ragtime)," where he was required to make seven costume changes in one hour, challenging him both as a dancer and an actor.

"I always had a fondness for acting," Perez said. "It is a lot easier to play characters (other) than a prince every single time. Sometimes being the ugly witch in the ballet is much more fun."

Today, Perez teaches master classes to aspiring young dancers and comes out of retirement at Christmas to perform in "The Nutcracker."

Whether in London, Houston or Wichita, Perez says watching the ballet with friends and family keeps the Christmas tradition of the Nutcracker alive.

"If people come to see the Nutcracker at Ballet Wichita, hopefully the tradition will become part of their own family."