Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet’s Nutcracker, a family tradition

Celebrating its 30th anniversary season, Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet (MMB) will perform “The Nutcracker” December 3-4 at the Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center. A tradition for many spectators and dancers, the full ballet is the perfect opportunity to introduce young family members to this art form. The beautiful sets, dazzling choreography and splendid choreography are sure to please guests of all ages.

“The Nutcracker” has been part of Madison’s Catelyn Winders holiday tradition for nearly 10 years. The 12-year-old started attending ballet with her mother several years before joining MMB, a pre-professional ballet company based in Madison. Catelyn first performed in “The Nutcracker” with the Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet (MMB) when she was 7 years old. That year, she danced the role of Candy Cane. This year, she will dance the main role of Clara.

“I remember buying my first nutcracker from the gift shop. I never would have 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 Nutcracker performer, I understand the Christmas tradition even better now that I see other members of the community watching the ballet together like my mother and I once did. My mom and I continue to make memories in our roles now as an involved parent and MMB dancer.

Catelyn’s mother, Jenny, is the host president of the MMB Parents Guild. Its committee serves as ushers and hosts during MMB productions. Like other parents in the business, Jenny volunteers her time to help bring the Nutcracker tradition to the community.

The Nutcracker” follows Clara’s story as she attends her family’s Christmas party, where she receives a nutcracker as a gift 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 marvel at the Snow Queen and her body of snowflakes in the snowy forest before meeting the Sugar Plum Fairy in the land There, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince enjoy dances or entertainment from around the world presented for their entertainment.

Winders is just one of approximately 150 local ballet dancers, all students at the Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy, the official school of the MMB. Jennifer Beasley, owner of the academy and artistic director of the company, says “The Nutcracker” is becoming a tradition for dancers and parents as well as audience members. We audition dancers for The Nutcracker in August, begin rehearsals in September, and perform excerpts from the ballet throughout the community beginning in November. Dancers have favorite roles that they strive to perform as they grow and develop.

Senior company member Grace Gardner’s favorite role is the Spanish soloist. The Germantown High School sophomore said, “I’m dancing this role for the first time this year, and it’s been fun perfecting the steps and the character. I love being able to act, being sassy and having fun with the role.

Dancing the roles of Snow Queen and Dewdrop, MMB lead dancer Brelyn Binkley from Brandon. MMB soloists appearing in the production include Madison’s Rebecca Trowbridge, Flowood’s Eleanora Ellis and Jackson’s Hart Maley. Principal members of the Madison County society include Avery Shiflett, Mary Emerson Swindell, Grace Gardner, Emily Garner, Sophia Huang, and Amelia McCaughan. Joley Cox, Caroline Ellis and Annalyse Binkley are senior members of the Rankin County company.

Join the local cast are [insert Sugarplum and Cavalier], Oscar Fernandez and Joey Dlearo of Ballet Memphis. Fernandez will dance the role of the Snow King. Dlearo will return to the MMB stage as the Nutcracker Prince.

Philadelphia Ballet’s Gabriela Mesa and Pau Pujol join the local cast dancing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Rider. Oscar Fernandez and Joey Dlearo from Ballet Memphis return to the MMB stage this season. Fernandez will dance the role of the Snow King. Dlearo will appear as the Nutcracker Prince.

Philadelphia Ballet demi-soloist Gabriela Mesa graduated from Cuba’s National Ballet School in 2011 and was a female finalist for the Youth America Grand Prix in New York that same year. From 2011 to 2016, she danced with the National Ballet of Cuba under the direction of Alicia Alonso. Mesa was promoted to soloist in 2015. From 2016 to 2019, she danced with Dimensions Dance Theater in 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 the Corella Dance Academy in Barcelona under former Philadelphia Ballet dancers Carmen Corella and Dayron Vera. He took intensive summer courses with the English National Ballet, Ibstage, the Royal Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. In 2018, Pau won a bronze medal in the senior men’s category at the Youth America Grand Prix Final in New York. In 2017, he won a gold medal at the YAGP semi-finals in Barcelona in the classical category, and he was a bronze medalist at the YAGP semi-finals in Barcelona in the pas de deux category. Pau is a soloist with the Philadelphia Ballet.

Oscar Fernandez is from the village of Santillana de Mar in the state of Cantabria, in northern Spain. He trained in classical, contemporary and flamenco dance at the Real Conservatorie of Dance Mariemma in Madrid before joining the San Francisco Ballet School on a scholarship. He joined Ballet San Jose as a 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 has performed in productions by Steven McMahon, including Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” and the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz”, Horseman in “The Nutcracker”, as well as in Spanish, Russian and Arabic. Oscar has also 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 at Ballet Memphis School.

Joey Dlearo hails from Loganville, Georgia, where he began his dance training with his mother Keri Beth Dlearo. He began his formal ballet training at the Lilburn School of Ballet. He was then trained by Orlando Molina for a year before joining the Richmond Ballet trainee program for two years. Joey is now a member of the Ballet Memphis company.

MMB’s “The Nutcracker” takes place Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center. After the matinee performances, put on Clara’s slippers and travel to candy land. In this immersive experience, guests will have their personal passport stamped as they visit Clara, the Snow Queen, the Dewdrop, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and more. Trip stops will offer character photo opportunities and memorabilia, including a miniature nutcracker. Afternoon activities will be capped off with “Spanish” hot chocolate and light refreshments from Nothing Bundt Cakes.

Tickets for the show cost between $30 and $35. Land of Sweets tickets are $25 and sold separately. Both are available at msmetroballet.com or by calling 601-853-4508.

Honorary Member Company of Regional Dance America, MMB is a non-profit pre-professional ballet company based in Madison. Company members and the cast of “The Nutcracker” are selected by audition from students at the Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy, with locations in Madison and Brandon. MMB’s 30th anniversary season supporters include the Mississippi Arts Commission; Gertrude C. Ford Foundation; Southern Arts; Ergon; Mississippi Blue Cross and Blue Shield; Hectic; Harper, Rains, Knight and Co.; Hilton Garden Inn Jackson-Madison; Larry and Michael Johnson Family Foundation; The pig and the pint; and Entergy. For more information about MMB or MMDA, visit www.msmetroballet.com and follow us on Instagram @msmetroballet and @msmetrodance.

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