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Lavish Nutcracker a joy to behold

When the dancers of the Inland Pacific Ballet debut their annual holiday production of The Nutcracker at Bridges Auditorium on December 15, their every move—from leap to pas de deux, and from bon-bon scamper to party-guest waltz—will seem absolutely effortless.

In fact, each pirouette, jete and arabesque is the result of years of preparation requiring focus and incredible endurance.

“We push ourselves in ballet class, bringing ourselves to another level every day. It requires discipline and a lot of athleticism,” said Jessie Parmelee, one of the 2 Inland Pacific Ballet (IPB) company dancers who will play the role of the Sugarplum Fairy in performances at Bridges as well as at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga.

“Dancers have a threshold for pain that is totally different from the pedestrian level,” Ms. Parmelee said. “You get girls dancing on broken toenails. I once spent an entire performance in Kentucky dancing on a broken ankle, and I didn’t even know it.”

Anyone who has attended a significant amount of spectator sports games knows that athletes will sometimes get hurt. There’s a difference, though, between those who participate in sports and those in the ballet, according to Ms. Parmelee.

“What sets us apart from football players is that they get to grimace in pain and get the sympathy vote from their spectators,” she said. “Dancers have to disguise any pain, because it would ruin the illusion we’re trying to create of perfection and beauty—that ethereal quality spent countless hours in the studio trying to bring to the stage.”

On Saturday, Ms. Parmelee and other members of the ballet company, as well as students of the Inland Pacific Ballet Academy, gathered at the IPB’s Montclair headquarters for 90-minute classes. After a quick snack, she and the other dancers who will appear in The Nutcracker then began running through the Christmas-themed ballet. 

Before their students are allowed to rise to the occasion by going en point, IPB co-founder and artistic director Victoria Koenig emphasizes that they must get an x-ray.

“You have to make sure that the growth plates are developed, otherwise you can ruin someone’s bone structure for life,” she said. “It’s a huge responsibility.”

Once girls begin to dance on point, usually at age 11 or 12, it becomes easier to determine which students will go on beyond classes to become dancers, Ms. Voznick said.

“You can tell the ones who really love it and don’t care if they get a blister now and then,” ballet mistress Jill Voznick said.  

There are currently enough shows that IPB engages multiple dancers for principal roles in The Nutracker. Three very young Claras, all aged 12—whom the instructors at the IPB Academy agree are unusually talented—will rotate in Nutcracker performances this year. These include 2 Claremonters, Mira Nadon and Emily Roe Baggarly, as well as Lauren Collett.

A pas de-deux—a dance featuring a man partnered with a woman, who remains on her toes for nearly the entire routine—is very hard on toe shoes, notes this year’s second fairy, Adrienne Diaz. Even with some gluing, she is going through toe shoes at the rate of one pair every 3 days.

It would be nearly impossible to calculate the amount of time Ms. Diaz has invested in honing her craft. She started dancing as a young girl and by the time she reached adolescence, ballet was her life. 

Ms. Diaz has never had any regrets with regards to the effort she has put into dance, which she says is well worth it, but she did have some apprehensions about showing its effects.

“Ballet is hard on the feet. I remember being a little petrified to wear sandals. I didn’t want the normal kids to see my blisters,” she said. “I was like 15 when I first dared to wear open-toed shoes.”

All of the activity takes a toll, according to Ms. Diaz, who is 26.

“The older I get, the more I feel it,” she said. “And the older I get, every time I approach the pas de deux in Sugarplum, the more I enjoy dance because it’s not going to be forever.”

Inland Pacific Ballet company member Brandon J is not just driven by the fact he won’t be able to dance forever. He’s making up for lost time. Mr. J, who was trained as a hip-hop dancer, met Ms. Koenig when both were teaching dance classes at Pomona College. Ms. Koenig asked him to come to the IPB Dance Academy and provide a 5-week summer course in hip-hop for her students. It was such a resounding success that she asked him to stay on at the academy indefinitely.

Three or 4 years ago, Ms. Koenig approached Mr. J with an unusual proposition. She wanted to put the hip-hop maven into “The Nutracker.”

Mr. J. is always up for a challenge and threw himself into his small role with enthusiasm. His first ballet class was a bit of a shock.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That was the thing that kept me interested in it,” he said. He worked extra hard to master the combinations and learn to move muscles he says he didn’t even know he had. 

“I had no idea that this is where I would be,” he marveled of his new career as an IPB soloist. “It’s pretty amazing.”

While in class, he will often weather the physical storm by applying a bit of Tiger Balm to his sore areas and wrapping them. At home, his routine is a bit more elaborate.

“At the end of the day, I’m high maintenance. I get a bucket of ice and water and stick my feet in the ice water,” Mr. J said. “Then I get a heating pad, an ice pack and a nice glass of Pinot Grigio.”

Performances will be held Saturday, December 8 at 1 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, December 9 at 1 p.m. at the Lewis Family Playhouse. The production will hit Bridges Auditorium on December 15, with evening shows and matinees running through December 22. Buy tickets via the dance company’s website, www.ipballet.org, or by calling Bridges at 621-8032.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier

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