It’s been 30 years since a small group of local ballet dancers debuted the first production of “The Nutcracker” in LaGrange, and much has changed, even though much has stayed the same with the production.
“The old adage, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ I believe that to a strong point,” said Lafayette Dance Academy artistic director Amy Orr about the annual performance. “But I hope and think every year that you’ll see something a little different.”
This year, the Lafayette Dance Academy has been in the final months of promoting its campaign for updating costumes. Organizers hope those who come out this year to see the performance will see much of the result with mostly new costumes on stage. Some of the costumes that have been continually used in the annual performance have been in use since the 1983 debut.
Orr said those who come out to see the show also will see the culmination of the hard work of the students who are performing. Five of the dancers in the cast of more than 200 are high school seniors who have been in the company since they were children.
“I’m really proud of them, not only for their work right now, but their work throughout the whole year,” Orr said. “This is where they can feel kind of validated in public for all the work and hours they spend here. … This is probably one of the couple times during the year, especially for the young teenage dancers, for them to show their peers and family for all the time and effort, what they do.”
Orr said being part of “The Nutcracker” is something that all the dancers seem to aspire to from a young age. She said the 5 year olds, the youngest who can perform in the show, will come watch the older dancers and try to emulate their moves, and even the youngest 3 and 4 year olds will perform an abbreviated version of some pieces.
The show also has become a family tradition for some of its performers.
“I have a lot of family members and I think it’s a wonderful thing to have,” Orr said.
Markette Baker, Troup County solicitor general and a LSPA board member, played Clara in the first LaGrange production of “The Nutcracker.” This year, her daughter Nina Frances, 6, will perform in the ballet for the first time as a soldier.
“I know the kinds of things that ballet gives to a girl, the discipline, the confidence and I’m just thrilled that she loves it and wants to be a part of it, and it makes me very proud,” Baker said. “It’s also that Amy Orr and Angela Anderson (studio director) make it something that the children can love, a good, good place where children can be. We are extraordinarily lucky in that regard.”
Baker added that her daughter even dressed as Clara for Halloween, and will watch the older performers at the dance academy and try to mimic them.
The McCurry family has turned the performance into a legacy event. They have been part of “The Nutcracker” in LaGrange for half of its local run and this year will mark all six of Sheree McCurry’s children as having appeared in the ballet.
Oldest daughter Anna McCurry, 22, started the trend in 1998, when she was 8 years old, as a soldier. Her younger sister Denise McCurry, now 18, was 3 when she saw Anna perform.
“She started dancing, then I started dancing when I was 3,” Denise McCurry said. “I remember going to see it, and I was 7 when I was in ‘The Nutcracker’” as a soldier.
Oldest son Brandon McCurry, 19, also surprised his siblings by being part of the performance, Anna McCurry said, noting he was more sports-oriented. His participation made younger brother Levi McCurry, 16, think, “Hey, sounds like fun,” he said, following in his older brother’s footsteps. His mother noted that Levi started as a “party boy” in the party scene, and this year is a “party dad.”
Caleb McCurry, 12, became one of the youngest participants, running into an audition with his older brothers when he was 3.
“He snuck in to the audition, and the artistic director ran me out of the room when I went to collect him,” Sheree McCurry said. “She liked his cuteness.”
He landed a role in the party scene, where he pretended to sleep. He’s been in the show five times.
This year marks the debut of the youngest McCurry, Naomi, 6, who plays a soldier.
“She’s just following in line with the siblings,” Sheree McCurry said.
“I like being a soldier,” Naomi said. “I like the fighting … I wish I had a real sword.”
Despite having all been in the production, with the more than 100 cast members, the McCurrys have only shared the stage a few times with each other. One year Denise and Levi McCurry portrayed Clara and Fritz together, an on-stage brother and sister.
Sheree McCurry said that one year, before the birth of Naomi, all five of her children were in “The Nutcracker.” When they received their cast T-shirts listing all the performers, all of her children were listed together and they displayed the shirts proudly.
The McCurry children so far have been in almost all the roles, except the coveted Sugarplum Fairy, something they said youngest sister Naomi can aspire to.
Sheree McCurry also helps out behind the scenes with fitting, fixing and preparing costumes for the show, something she began when oldest daughter Anna McCurry began dancing about 15 years ago. Some of the others, when not on stage, have helped out backstage as well.
“I think it’s been great,” Sheree McCurry said, adding that it has become a true Christmas tradition for her family.
“It wouldn’t be Christmas without it,” added Denise McCurry.
“It’s just what we do,” Sheree McCurry said.
Lafayette Society for Performing Arts presents “The Nutcracker” Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., Dec. 7 at 2 and 7 p.m., and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. at Troup High School Performing Arts Center. Reserved tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. General admission is $15 for adults and $8 for students. Tickets are available at the LSPA box office at 214 Bull St. or by calling 706-882-9099.