Celebrating its 30th anniversary season, Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet (MMB) will present “The Nutcracker” on December 3 and 4 at Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center. A tradition for audience members and dancers alike, the full-length ballet is the perfect opportunity to introduce younger family members to the art form. The beautiful sets, dazzling choreography and splendid choreography are sure to please patrons of all ages.
“The Nutcracker” has been part of the holiday tradition for Catelyn Winders of Madison since she was four years old. The now 12-year-old began attending the ballet with her mother several years before she joined MMB, a pre-professional ballet company based in Madison. Catelyn first performed in “The Nutcracker” with Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet (MMB) at age 7. That year she danced the role of Candy Cane. This year she will dance the lead role of Clara.
“I remember getting my first nutcracker at the gift shop. I would have never thought at the time that I would be dancing with a nutcracker on stage as I am this year in my role as Clara,” says Catelyn. “As a performer in the Nutcracker, I understand the Christmastime tradition even more now as I see other members of the community watching the ballet together as my mom and I once did. My mom and I continue to make memories in our roles now as an involved parent and a dancer of MMB.”
Catelyn’s mother Jenny is hospitality chairman for the MMB parents guild. Members of her committee serve as ushers and greeters during MMB productions. Like other company parents, Jenny volunteers her time to help bring the tradition of “The Nutcracker” to the community.
“The Nutcracker” follows the story of Clara as she attends her family’s Christmas party, where she receives the gift of a nutcracker from the mysterious and magical Herr Drosselmeyer. After the party, Clara’s nutcracker comes to life, battles the evil Mouse King, and takes Clara on a magical journey. Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are awed by the Snow Queen and her corps of Snowflakes in the snowy forest before meeting the Sugarplum Fairy in the land of sweets. There Clara and the Nutcracker Prince enjoy dances or divertissements from around the world presented for their entertainment.
Winders is just one of approximately 150 local dancers cast in the ballet, all students at Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy, the official school of MMB. Academy owner and company artistic director Jennifer Beasley says, “The Nutcracker” becomes a tradition for the dancers and parents as much as it does for the audience members. We audition dancers for the Nutcracker in August, begin rehearsals in September and perform excerpts of the ballet throughout the community beginning in November. Dancers have favorite roles that they work toward performing as they grow and develop.”
Senior company member Grace Gardner’s favorite role is the Spanish soloist. The Germantown High School sophomore says, “I am dancing that role for the first time this year, and it has been fun both perfecting the steps and the character. I love being able to act, be sassy, and just have fun with the role.”
Dancing the roles of Snow Queen and Dewdrop is MMB principal dancer Brelyn Binkley of Brandon. MMB soloists appearing in the production include Rebecca Trowbridge of Madison, Eleanora Ellis of Flowood and Hart Maley of Jackson. Senior company members from Madison County include Avery Shiflett, Mary Emerson Swindell, Grace Gardner, Emily Garner, Sophia Huang and Amelia McCaughan. Joley Cox, Caroline Ellis, and Annalyse Binkley are senior company members from Rankin County.
Joining the local cast are Gabriela Mesa and Pau Pujol of Philadelphia Ballet dancing the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. Oscar Fernandez and Joey Dlearo of Ballet Memphis return to the MMB stage this season. Fernandez will be dancing the role of the Snow King. Dlearo will appear as the Nutcracker Prince.
Philadelphia Ballet demi soloist Gabriela Mesa graduated from the National Ballet School of Cuba in 2011 and was a Youth America Grand Prix New York top 10 female finalist the same year. From 2011 to 2016 she danced with the National Ballet of Cuba under the direction of Alicia Alonso. Mesa was promoted to the rank of soloist in 2015. From 2016-2019 she danced with Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami under the direction of Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra.
Pau Pujol began his training at a local school in Blanes, Catalonia, Spain before attending Corella Dance Academy in Barcelona under the direction of former Philadelphia Ballet dancer Carmen Corella and Dayron Vera. He attended summer intensives with English National Ballet, Ibstage, Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. In 2018 Pau earned a bronze medal in the senior men category of the Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York City. In 2017 he earned a gold medal at the YAGP semifinals in Barcelona in the classical category, and he was a bronze medalist in the YAGP semifinals in Barcelona in the pas de deux category. Pau is a soloist with Philadelphia Ballet.
Oscar Fernandez is from the village of Santillana de Mar of the state of Cantabria, in the North of Spain. He trained in classical, contemporary and Flamenco dance at the Real Conservatorie of Dance Mariemma in Madrid before joining San Francisco Ballet School on scholarship. He joined Ballet San Jose as Corp member in 2014 where he performed in George Balanchine's “Theme and Variations,” Ben Stevenson’s “Cinderella” and Ohad Naharin's “Minus 16” among others. He joined Ballet Memphis in 2016 and performed in Steven McMahon productions including Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet,” the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” Cavalier in “Nutcracker,” as well as Spanish, Russian and Arabian. Oscar also has performed in George Balanchine's “Square Dance,” Reggie Wilson's “I Am a Man,” Matthew Neenan's “Water of the Flowery Mill,” and Mark Godden's “Midsummer Night's Dream.” Oscar teaches Adult Ballet and Latin Dance in the Ballet Memphis School.
Joey Dlearo is from Loganville, Georgia where he started his dance training under his mother Keri Beth Dlearo. He began his formal ballet training at Lilburn School of Ballet. He then trained under Orlando Molina for a year before joining the Richmond Ballet trainee program for two years. Joey is now a company member at Ballet Memphis.
MMB’s “The Nutcracker” will be held on Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4 at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center. Following the matinee performances, step into Clara’s slippers and travel to the Land of Sweets. In this immersive experience, guests will have their personal passport stamped as they visit Clara, the Snow Queen, the Dewdrop, the Sugarplum Fairy, and more. Travel stops will offer character photo opportunities and souvenirs including a miniature nutcracker. The afternoon’s activities will be capped with “Spanish'' hot cocoa and light refreshments from Nothing Bundt Cakes.
Tickets for the performance are $30-$35. Land of Sweets tickets are $25 and are sold separately. Both are available at msmetroballet.com or by calling 601-853-4508.
An honor company member of Regional Dance America, MMB is a pre-professional, non-profit ballet company based in Madison. Members of the company and the cast of “The Nutcracker” are selected by audition from the students of Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy, with locations in Madison and Brandon. Supporters of MMB’s 30th anniversary season include the Mississippi Arts Commission; Gertrude C. Ford Foundation; South Arts; Ergon; Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi; Eventful; Harper, Rains, Knight and Co.; Hilton Garden Inn Jackson-Madison; Larry and Michael Johnson Family Foundation; The Pig & Pint; and Entergy. For more information on MMB or MMDA, visit www.msmetroballet.com and follow us on Instagram @msmetroballet and @msmetrodance.