Hannah Wagner has been dancing in “The Nutcracker” for more than half her life. The 19-year-old started as a Mouse and Little Angel and worked her way up to Clara and the Dew Drop Fairy before landing a part as the Snow Queen in this year’s Ballet Wichita production.
“This is my biggest role,” she said. “It was quite an honor when I was asked to do it.”
Sophie Meyers, 23, is Wagner’s counterpart in the Friends University Ballet performance of “The Nutcracker.” She’s got a similar history with the ballet. “I’ve never not been in a Nutcracker, I think.”
Wagner and Meyers are among more than 200 dancers with roles in the city’s two productions of the holiday favorite that take place this weekend.
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Both feature amateur dancers from across south central Kansas, young dancers just on the verge of professional careers and established professionals such as Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti, a member of Ballet Idaho who’s performing the role of Sugar Plum Fairy for Ballet Wichita.
For the Friends University Ballet production, Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano of the Colorado Ballet will perform alongside students this weekend. Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle of the New York City ballet will do the same next weekend. Kowroski and Angle performed here last year.
Wagner, a freshman at Wichita State University, has been dancing since her mother took her to ballet lessons in a local rec center when she was 3. “My mom said every girl should try ballet. She just figured I would drop out when I wanted to. A year later, I said ‘Mom, I want to go to a real ballet class.’ That’s when I started training with Miss Jill” Landrith, artistic director of Ballet Wichita.
Wagner graduated to principal roles four years ago. She said that Landrith gives those dancers several roles, which keeps it interesting for them but also requires a lot of rehearsal. She’ll be the Snow Queen on this Saturday and Sunday, also performing as a Spanish dancer on Saturday and Rat Doll on Sunday.
The Snow Queen’s big scene is about 12 minutes long, which Wagner admits is a test of endurance. To keep up, she’s rehearsing or at the gym every day. “It really is a demanding sport.”
But it’s one Wagner loves, never more so than when performing for children. On Thursday and Friday , Ballet Wichita was scheduled to perform matinees for schoolchildren from around the region.
“It’s just kind of a sense of magic,” Wagner said of performing for children. “You can see the kids light up. Most of them haven’t seen ballet or even heard of it before. I’m a ballet teacher, and I remember one girl who said she started dancing because she saw ‘The Nutcracker.’ That’s something close to my heart.”
Despite her success in ballet, Wagner isn’t planning a career in dance, studying business marketing at WSU and already working part-time in that field. “I’ve danced all my life. I kind of like it as a hobby, I don’t want it as my job.”
But she says she’ll try to always find time for “The Nutcracker.”
“It’s something I’ve done every year. I love doing it. It’s become a tradition in my family. I’ll continue to do until I move away somewhere.”
Meyers, a New Jersey resident, graduated from Friends in May and does plan a professional dancing career.
She calls “The Nutcracker” “definitely one of my favorite” ballets to perform, having filled roles such as Marzipan, the Dew Drop Fairy and a member of the Snow Corps in the past.
“The whole snow scene is very magical,” she said. “It’s crazy because it actually snows on stage. It’s fake now, but it looks real, I think.”
If You Go
Friends University Ballet: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Dec. 19-20; 2 p.m. Dec. 14 and Dec. 20 at Sebits Auditorium on the Friends campus. $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, www.friends.edu/ballet. For more info, call 316-295-5677.