The following story appeared in Clay Today on Dec. 2, 2010.

Nutcracker is Clay Tradition


Sydney Smith, age 13, an 8th grader at Green Cove Springs Junior High, plays the leading  role as Clara in the Nutcracker Ballet.

By Christina Leach Phillips


GREEN COVE SPRINGS — In a serene setting on the banks of theSt. Johns River, music from Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Snowflakes” can be heard outside the open windows of the Clay Academy of Dance Arts. 

Inside the studio, young dancers practice pirouettes and grand jetés in preparation for the school’s annual Nutcracker Ballet Excerpts on Dec. 12. 

The Nutcracker Ballet, now in its 10th year, has become a Clay County holiday tradition that features a festive 19th Century Christmas party scene with dancers dressed in elegant costumes, as well as dancing dolls, mice, angels, snowflakes, flowers, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the star of the Ballet, Clara, who receives a wooden nutcracker from her Uncle Drosselmeyer, a mysterious man who magically brings dolls to life.  

“I am just speechless — I cannot believe how fast the Nutcracker has come together this year,” said Suzanne Tudor, the Director of the dance school in Green Cove Springs. 

Tudor said her students, girls and boys ages 3 to 18, have been working very hard on their technique since August to prepare for their roles in the Nutcracker.  But Tudor said her work begins much earlier when she observes her dancers to determine the roles they will play in the Ballet, including the coveted role of Clara, a girl around 12 or 13 who can dance on pointe. 

“I start looking for Clara the year before. I always pretty much know a year ahead of time who the next Clara is going to be — I watch her carefully — I never make a final decision until it is the year of the Ballet and everybody is back in class, and I can look at this girl who I’ve been watching over the past year just to make sure that it is still the best choice, and usually it is,” said Tudor. 

When the cast list went up, the role of Clara went to Sydney Smith, age 13, an 8th grader at Green Cove Springs Junior High. Additional leads include Blair Tudor as the Sugar Plum Fairy; Emily Poehlman as the Christmas Spirit; Natalie Phillips as the Snow Queen; Katelyn Nance as the Spanish dancer; Carly Heneise as the Arabian dancer; and Lauren Andrews as the Chinese dancer. 

Drosselmeyer will be played by Evan Gould, music teacher at Paterson Elementary, who has played the role for seven years. Clara’s mischievous brother, Fritz, will be played by Tyler Wolf. 

As the younger girls dream of being Clara or the Sugar Plum Fairy one day, they imitate the older dancers, Tudor said. “They know all the parts,” she said. “All the children in our studio have grown up in the Nutcracker.” 

Jessica Mathis’ three daughters will be in the Nutcracker this year. It will be the fifth year for Jenna, 9, who will be a Rosebud and a party girl, and the third year for Juli, 5, who will be a Marzipan dancer and a mouse.Jordan, 3, will be in the Nutcracker for the first time as a mouse. “We love the Nutcracker,” Mathis said. “It wouldn’t seem like Christmas without it!” 

Tudor, who herself started taking ballet classes at the age of 3, has been involved in the Nutcracker Ballet for over 30 years as a guest artist and as a teacher and choreographer.  Some of her former students have gone on to dance professionally, including her first Clara, Amy Aldridge, who became a dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet. 

“I truly do the Nutcracker for the sheer joy of it, and I hope that the children in the studio and the parents derive joy from it, and that on a larger scale that our community will come to love it,” said Tudor. 

The Clay Academy of Dance Arts Nutcracker Ballet Excerpts will be held on Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. at the St. Johns Country Day School Performing Arts Center inOrangePark. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $10 for students with no admission charge for toddlers. Tickets may be purchased at the box office one hour before the performance. 

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