Amy Katz dances as Clara in last weekend’s performance of The Nutcracker. Photo: kirsten nagiba

An Enchanting Fantasy: South Burlington Ballerinas Shine in Vermont’s Own Nutcracker

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Thursday December 22, 2016

Countless ballet companies have performed to Tchaikovsky’s beloved score of “The Nutcracker” and among them are thousands of dancers who have played the ballet’s signature roles of princes, fairies, and snowflakes, to name a few. Joining the ranks and taking the stage this holiday season are three accomplished dancers from South Burlington, Amy Katz, Rachel Rovner, and Ava Vacherot. Their performance was part of the Vermont Ballet Theater (VBT)’s production, “Vermont Own’s Nutcracker,” recently performed at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Katz, Rovner, and Vacherot danced with 150 performers in the lavish, magical ballet which has been a holiday tradition for decades. “Vermont’s Own Nutcracker” featured choreography from VBT company director Alexander Nagiba and special guest artist Jorge A. Villarini of the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York City.

Katz, a freshman at South Burlington High School (SBHS), danced the iconic role of Clara, the young heroine of the ballet. Katz remembers the first time she watched “The Nutcracker” and recalls, “I knew I wanted to dance and I hope that in our performance we can inspire the next generation of dancers.” Having rehearsed with the company for months, she says the most challenging aspect of her role is the acting. “It is a story ballet, so it’s important to convey every single emotion that Clara experiences to the audience.” Katz reports that no matter how tired she might be, once she is onstage her favorite part of performing is the rush of energy it gives her. “I feel like I can do anything.”

Rovner, a senior at SBHS, started dancing at age three and through the years has danced with the Boston and Bolshoi Ballets Summer Intensive programs. She played multiple roles in the VBT’s production including the Dew Drop Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers, Lead Arabian dancer, Soldier Doll solo, Harlequin Doll with partner, and danced in the Snowflakes dance along with the rest of the company. Her favorite is the lead Arabian dancer, “Because the audience always loves that part of ‘The Nutcracker’ best.” Rovner notes that dancing the Snowflake dance is the most challenging “because we are required to be on-pointe, on our toes, almost the entire dance.”

Along with her co-dancers, Rovner rehearses intensively. “I am at dance classes, where we begin informal rehearsing for ‘The Nutcracker,’ after school four days a week for three hours at a time, plus from October to December, I attend extra rehearsals every Saturday afternoon.”

With an impressive resume of training and performances, Rovner plans to continue dancing in college. “I have been invited to audition as part of the admission process at the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theater and Dance and will do that in February. I also have a secret dream to perform on Broadway because I have singing and acting abilities as well. But understanding that this happens to one in a million, I’m going for a dual degree program in college to get a degree in biochemistry and dance.”

Vacherot, also a senior at SBHS, has been dancing for seven years, six of them with the VBT. This production represented her eighth performance at the Flynn. While previously she played the role of Clara as well as other characters, this year her “Nutcracker” roles included the Dew Drop Fairy, Lead Candy Cane, Harlequin Doll and the Sugar Plum Fairy, who rules over the kingdom of sweets. The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is one of the ballet’s best known numbers. Vacherot says of the experience, “My favorite part of performing is getting the rush and thrill of pouring your heart out on stage and feeling the energy of not only yourself, but the other dancers and the audience. There’s nothing else really like it.”

All three dancers took the stage last weekend with VBT’s twelfth season of their production of “The Nutcracker” ballet, a Christmas tradition for many Vermont families and young dancers as well. As Vacherot says, “I think being in such a classic ballet like ‘The Nutcracker’ is both an honor and a joy. For many, including myself, it has become a tradition of the holiday season and it feels good to get to share the happiness I get from such a great art form like ballet with the audience.”