Jamestowners take the stage at Rosecliff in ‘The Nutcracker’
When 8-year-old islander Audrey Magarian landed a role as one of the mice in the Island Moving Company’s production of “The Nutcracker,” she made the most of her moment in one of the ballet’s biggest scenes.
According to her grandmother, Judy Magarian of North Kingstown, the scene unfolds on the sweetheart staircase inside Rosecliff, and Audrey, who gets “shot” in the fight between the mice and the toy soldiers, rolls down the stairs impressively.
To her grandmother’s surprise, Audrey actually landed two small parts in the ballet.
“We were all thrilled for her,” Magarian said.
Audrey made her debut performance last month, but other islanders, like Haley Rosenthal and Evelina Pinto, are now Nutcracker veterans. They have been performing for years, according to Dominique Alfandre, the dance company’s executive director.
Haley and Evelina auditioned for “The Nutcracker” after taking dance lessons at the Newport Academy of Ballet, which is connected with Island Moving Company. Miki Ohlsen, the company’s artistic director, founded the dance academy. It has been in operation 30 years.
Audrey, who had been taking dance lessons in North Kingstown, started classes this year with Island Moving Company. She was asked to audition for “The Nutcracker” back in September. She landed the two parts, and the whole family went to Rosecliff to see the performance.
Jamestowners Darcy Luebbert, Jessica Savage, Molly Joyce and Mary Baertlein are also in this year’s show.
Darcy, 13, is in eighth grade at Lawn Avenue School. She said the ballet rehearsals and performances had been keeping her “very busy.” The ballet opened Nov. 23, and that was part of a hectic week for Darcy. She was also appearing four days later at the Rhode Island State House with the seventh- and eighth-grade chorus from Lawn Avenue School.
This year’s final Nutcracker performance is Friday, Nov. 30.
Alfandre estimated 60 families are in the cast. The dancers come from all over Rhode Island and the neighboring Southern New England region.
This is the 11th year Island Moving Company has performed “The Nutcracker” at Rosecliff, a Gilded Age mansion build in Newport at the turn of the century. The show has sold out every year, Alfandre said, and has become a local holiday tradition.
Alfandre said Rosecliff was the first “inside” location the dance company reimagined for a ballet. It got started in that mode out of necessity. The Rosecliff version is also the only Nutcracker that Island Moving Company has ever presented.
“There was no theater in Newport, so we were forced to figure out innovative places to perform,” said Alfandre. “We got better and better at that.”
Choreography became a doubleedged sword for the artistic director. “We have had to figure out the space as well as figure out the dance,” she said.
But that proved to be Ohlsen’s forte. Ultimately, the company became so good at adapting borrowed spaces for the dances, the techniques became the Island Moving Company’s signature.
Newport, Alfandre added, offers a wealth of spaces, landscapes and buildings.
“It’s been wonderful to work with our different partners,” she said.
The Preservation Society of Newport County is a partner in the Rosecliff production of “The Nutcracker.”
Alfandre said Tess Oelrichs, the Comstock Lode heiress who hired Stanford White to design Rosecliff, would probably have loved this Nutcracker. In this ver- sion, the heroine is named Tess and the story features the Oelrichs family. She most certainly would have enjoyed seeing the mansion’s famous rooms transformed into the story settings. In the production, the audience travels with the dancers through the mansion, from the dining room, into the gold and white ballroom, as well as to the staircase for that famous fight scene. This type of event was what the mansion was built to show off, she said.
Island Moving Company has also performed other ballets at different mansions. “Dracula,” for example, started at Belcourt Castle. The same production has since been moved to Seaview on Ruggles Avenue. Alfandre said “Dracula” belongs in a “massive, beautiful stone mansion.”
The company over the summer also performed in Newport’s Great Friends Meeting House. In 2002, the dance company started the site-specific festival called Open for Dancing. Choreographers come every other year to Newport to create a dance at outdoor venues. Alfandre said they love the challenge. Past venues have included Ballard Park, Fort Adams, the Norman Bird Sanctuary and the aircraft carriers at the U.S. Naval Base.
The choreographer has to march into the landscape and “create a dance,” she said, and the guest artists have invented beautiful dances that existed only for the two weeks of the festival.
“You see these places in a whole new way,” she said.