South Jersey Ballet Theater’s “The Nutcracker” begins tonight

Ushering in the holidays, the South Jersey Ballet Theater is gearing up for its annual production of “The Nutcracker,” running from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22 at the Voorhees Middle School theater.

With auditions taking place the week before Labor Day, director Andrea Duffin Conway said the cast of more than 100 dancers has been practicing since the second week in September as they move closer to opening night.

“After the first few years, we pretty much had this under our belts,” Duffin Conway said.

With the production in its 22nd year at South Jersey Ballet Theatre, Duffin Conway explained that the production has come far with upgrades to both sets and costumes throughout the years.

Holding open auditions for the production, Duffin Conway said all girl cast members down to the 5-year-old sugarplums are ballet students from the South Jersey Ballet School and other schools throughout the area.

Throughout the years, only two professionals, Rick Callender and John Taveres, have been employed to fill the male roles of the Snow King and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier.

Duffin Conway added that “The Nutcracker” is always an exciting time for the cast, as she explained that each year every girl in the cast receives a new role.

“We really make sure every cast member gets a different part, so it’s exciting to see them grow,” Duffin Conway said. “I think it challenges them and makes them stronger.”

Receiving two new roles this year is 9-year-old Voorhees student Caitlin Flewelling, who will play both a snow assistant and a party girl in the upcoming production.

“I was really excited to be in the party scene and be able to dance with the dolls,” Flewelling said.

Being a student of South Jersey Ballet School herself, Flewelling said she looks forward to doing more shows, after completing her year-end recital and spring performance, comprised a mix of both “Alice in Wonderland” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

Looking forward to future productions of “The Nutcracker,” Flewelling said she hopes to some day participate in the snow scene of the production, which occurs after the party scene and is usually awarded to the older dancers.

“You get to do a lot more, it’s a longer dance,” Flewelling explained.

While most numbers may last anywhere from two to three minutes, the snow scene is comprised of a six-minute dance number, according to Flewelling.

“It makes it fun to be in the same scene as the older girls,” she said.

As a means of fostering the mentorship relationship between the younger and older dancers, senior company members of the cast help with rehearsals for the younger dancers, according to Duffin Conway.

Members of the senior company include Eastern Regional High School freshman Sam Pecan, who Duffin Conway said is at the school all week, assisting with rehearsals.

“They want to be there as much as they can,” Duffin Conway said.

Participating in “The Nutcracker” since she was 6 years old, Pecan said she is excited to be part of the senior company, which is determined by a student’s dance level, instead of their age. To become part of the senior company, a student must reach level five, the highest level a dancer can attain.

“I didn’t think I would get to level five so soon,” Pecan said.

Having a well-rounded knowledge of the roles, Pecan said the senior company helps to coach girls who are coming into new roles.

This year, Pecan will play three roles as the Soldier Doll, and the Spanish and candy cane leads.

“When I was younger, I always loved ‘The Nutcracker’,” Pecan said. “I always loved this time of year.”

Performances of  “The Nutcracker” are scheduled for Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. and Dec. 22 at 2:20 p.m. All performances will be held at the Voorhees Middle School theater. Ticket prices are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and $12 for children.

To order tickets, visit www.southjerseyballet.com. For additional information, call 767-7060 or email sjballetboxoffice@gmail.com.