Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance prepares for ‘The Nutcracker’
Madelyn and Farrah McNeal are excited about being gold angels this year in the Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance’s upcoming production of “The Nutcracker.”
“The gold angels have more color and they have different wings that are big,” the 6-year-old twins said in tandem.
Two years ago, the sisters were white angels in the ballet — the youngest group of students who perform.
Franco has been offering performances of the classic Christmas story ballet since the ’80s and has always included her youngest students, some of whom are only 3 years old, in the productions.
“They are so excited to be on stage,” Franco said of these young performers. “They keep reminding me this will be their first time on stage, and I want it to be a fun, inspiring experience.”
In the process of learning their parts for the production, Franco said, the young students watch recordings of the local performance from previous years.
“The younger students get to watch the videos of principles and leads who were once baby angels and they know what the future can hold for them,” she said. “They know that a white angel may one day be the sugar plum fairy.”
While these little dancers don’t have to worry about difficult choreography, Franco said, she still wants it to be a professional experience for them. That means learning about everything that goes into the production, as well as their parts.
“I want them to learn about a theater, backstage, green room, no talking and telling the story with movement, not words,” she said.
Franco also talks to the students about the story, which is based on “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice,” written by E.T.A. Hoffman.
With a tale that includes a handsome prince, a snow queen, a sugar plum fairy and a Mouse King, which Madelyn said is her favorite part of the show — “Because he looks funny” — it is no wonder Franco’s students want to be part of the production.
Therefore, in an effort to make sure dancers were safe this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tryouts were held at the large facility next to the studio on Wisconsin Avenue that is owned by one of Franco’s former students, Anna Burnett Tillotson.
“It is a huge open space, great for social distancing. And with its big garage-type doors opened, fresh air could circulate through the building,” Franco said. “Students were also required to wear masks.”
Dancing in the Nutcracker, Franco said, gives her students their first glimpse into performing in a ballet.
“The Nutcracker has lots of acting and great storytelling. It’s important for them (the students) to know ballet is not just about steps or tricks. The Nutcracker also has a lot of emotion and beauty like the joy of Christmas, sadness from a broken toy, the fear of giant mice and the beauty in the Land of the Sweets Candy Mountain,” Franco said.
Franco has scheduled performances of the Nutcracker Ballet at 7 p.m. Dec. 19; and at 2 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Parkside Playhouse Theatre, 101 Iowa Ave. Tickets are $10.
A portion of the proceeds will go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital and donations will also be collected for Keely Buell, a member of Franco’s family who has cancer.
Audience members will be required to wear a mask and the name, phone number and temperature will be taken of everyone entering the facility.
Seating will be limited in compliance with the theater’s COVID-19 policy.
For more information or tickets, call 601-638-7282.