Youth Ballet will give 20th 'Nutcracker' performance

Nov. 24, 2012 @ 02:34 PM

The Nutcracker was first performed in 1892. Over the years it has become a holiday classic. 

This year will be the 20th annual performance by the Union County Youth Ballet. 

The production is choreographed and directed by Bonita Simpson, owner of Bonita's School of Ballet, which is also celebrating its 20th year. 

"It is such a classic and I wanted to bring that to my hometown," Simpson said. "It wouldn't be Christmas without The Nutcracker." 

The well-known story centers around Clara and her Nutcracker gift. After a battle against the mice and their king, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are transported to a magical land of sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. 

This year there are some new costumes, which are created by Simpson's mother and numerous parent volunteers. 

"I have wonderful parents here," Simpson said. "I have a great support system." 

Open auditions are held for the roles, so not every dancer in the performance comes from Simpon's studio. For the dancers, it is a chance to perform that they look forward to each year. 

"I think they look forward to (it) each year," Simpson said. "They get really excited." 

The dancers will usually dance different roles every year and Simpson often allows them to grow into roles. 

Simpson choreographs the ballet every year. 

"I listen to the music and I just create," she said. "I'm willing to make changes...I've created my own choreography within the storyline." 

For some of the older dancers, the ballet is a chance to fulfill a dream. 

Such is the case with Sarah Jirgal, 16, who is dancing the lead role of Clara this year. 

"I was really, really excited," Jirgal said. 

She has dreamed of this "since I was little. I love this part," she said. 

Jirgal, a junior at Piedmont High School, has been dancing for 10 years. She has performed in The Nutcracker for eight years. In the past, she has performed the Spanish dance, the Snow Queen, the Arabian dance, a Doll and other roles. 

The all-day Saturday rehearsals are a challenge for Jirgal. The role of Clara takes a lot of endurance since she is active throughout most of the ballet, especially in the opening party scene. 

Her favorite part is seeing the little girls as party guests or angels and helping them. 

Rebecca Rollins, 18, is returning this year to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy. 

Rollins, who was home-schooled, performed as Clara last year. She graduated and is currently an assistant teacher. 

"I was excited," Rollins said about being cast. "Very excited and very honored." 

She particularly enjoys being able to add her own touch to the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. In her case, adding her own touch means a lot of jumping, which is her specialty. 

Rollins has been dancing for about 15 years. In the past, she has performed as Clara, a Doll, the Spanish dancer, the Snow Queen, a flower and other roles. 

Sugar Plum has presented a challenge. 

"It's a very difficult solo," Rollins said. It involves lots of stamina and endurance. "You definitely have to use your technique." 

Rollins' favorite part has been working with the other dancers. 

"Getting to work with so many little kids," Rollins said. "It's adorable." 

For Tara Simpson, The Nutracker and ballet are family events. She is Simpson's daughter and has danced in 19 of the 20 productions. Simpson, 23, has been dancing for 21 years. She is currently a teacher at the ballet school. 

"I've grown up in it," Simpson said. 

Simpson has performed as Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Spanish dancer and other roles. This year she is performing in the snow corps de ballet, as an adult at the party and as Mother Ginger. 

"It's something I would never trade," Simpson said. 

She is looking forward to seeing many of the older dancers return this year for the anniversary. The studio is holding a gala with about 300 people in late November. 

Bonita Simpson estimates that about 893 dancers have participated in the performance over the past 20 years. Some of her students have gone on to become professional dancers in companies. 

"Our Nutcracker is done on a professional level," Simpson said. "From the minute the curtain goes up, it's pure excitement." 

"I just love all of it," Simpson said.  

Performances will be held Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the George A. Batte Jr. Fine Arts Center on Wingate University's campus. Tickers are $12 for adults at $10 for students or seniors. Call 704-289-5733 or visit for more information.

On Friday, Nov. 30, the Union Youth Ballet and Orchestra will be performing the Nutcracker Suite in the Belk Wing of the Monroe Crossing Mall. The performance begins at 7 p.m. and admission is free.