In their pale pink tights and soundless slippers, teeny ballerinas scurry across the vast stage just a little too quickly in this rehearsal; when the lights come up tomorrow and Sunday, the troupe will be hidden underneath the huge, stilt-supported skirt of Mother Ginger in the annual Island production of The Nutcracker.
“Mother Ginger can’t move that fast,” gently chides artistic director Beth Vages, who is staging this holiday ballet for her 23rd time, her 12th on Martha’s Vineyard.
“And skip! Go!” she directs, as the dancers move to the four corners of the stage in pairs.
This weekend’s Island production features 14 professional dancers from the Atlantic Coast Ballet (formerly the Cape Cod Ballet) and about 60 other dancers (mainly children from the Martha’s Vineyard School of Ballet) under the direction of Ms. Vages, who paces downstage in jeans and boots, giving simple direction to the smallest dancers, including a couple of first-graders who already are Nutcracker veterans; it’s Annabelle Shevelin and Hannah Hagen’s fourth show. “And stop — and kisses!”
For some dancers it is their first time air-kissing on stage, and they are trying to imagine the bright lights, the crowd in the darkness behind and the huge skirt that will shimmy over their heads. They scurry and skip, dreaming of their leap into the spotlight, arms outstretched.
The Nutcracker is, after all, a children’s dream story, a sometimes scary fairy tale set to Tchaikovsky’s unforgettably simple, yet exhilarating rising and falling scales.
“Okay, I’m going to put the music on,” says Ms. Vages. The man who composed the 1812 Overture knew all about how to overwhelm, and his cascade of crescendoes adds to the story’s — and the children’s — sense of wonder. Sugar plum fairies, dancing snowflakes, epic battles between mice and toy soldiers, endless trees, a kingdom of sweets, all from a child’s eye, in which the adult world indeed looks oversized and new experiences seem overwhelming. The little girls scurry more slowly this time.
Then, skips and kisses completed, the ballerinas head downstage to their waiting mothers and fathers who have passed the time with talk of ripped tights (“Where can I get a new pair of pink tights on the Island?” “Nowhere.” Wince.) and repeat roles (“Is she a mouse this year? Sophie is a mouse this year.”)
They meet at a pile of costumes, purple silk soldier dresses and hats, all trimmed with gold.
“Does this look too short?”
“This is too big!”
“Can I wear this one?”
“Is this one mine?” purrs one little dancer, her eyes wide with innocence and aspiration. It is hers for this weekend, and so her name goes onto some masking tape to be pressed inside, over the name of the dancer who wore it last.
“There is a history in each costume,” smiles John Philip Hagen, who will play the role of the dad again this year (“He’s the longest dad ever” in the role, Ms. Vages notes proudly of her casting) along with his daughter, Hannah, and son, Garret, who tonight sits reading, awaiting his rehearsal time.
“The layers of tape show the other dancers, from other years, who were smaller. Sarah [Pertile of Edgartown, who is playing Clara in the Saturday show] wore Hannah’s costume, her name is in there, on the tape...” Mr. Hagen’s voice trails off, his eyes a little wistful about the passing of time marked in Nutcrackers.
The Nutcracker, however, takes its own measure of time, bringing us out of the ballet not a year older, but somehow again back to childhood. And at the holidays, too — just the right time.
Children in the Arts of Martha’s Vineyard presents the12th annual Nutcracker Gala at the Martha’s Vineyard High School Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $25 for priority center seating. Tickets may be purchased in advance at Above Ground Records in Edgartown; Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven; Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury; and Our Market in Oak Bluffs. There is a family cap for tickets at the door; $50 for two adults and three children in the samefamily.