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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Ballet Theatre of Ohio bringing holiday classic ‘Nutcracker’ to Civic

11/17/2016 - West Side Leader
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By Pam Lifke

Jeremiah Isley will appear for the 24th year as the Mouse King in Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s production of “Nutcracker.” He and his brother Joshua, who plays Drosselmeyer, have performed the roles each year the ballet has been staged by Ballet Theatre of Ohio.
Rachel Sulek will reprise the role of Clara for three performances in Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s production of “Nutcracker,” which will be performed Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3-4 at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Ohio
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Parents who bring their children each year to Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s (BTO) “Nutcracker” are not the only ones who make the ballet a holiday tradition.

The ballet company will stage its 24th production of “Nutcracker” Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3-4 at the Akron Civic Theatre. And brothers Joshua and Jeremiah Isley have had a part in every one of them.

Jeremiah Isley, who plays the Mouse King, said he and brother Joshua Isley, who plays Drosselmeyer, were teenagers studying dance with BTO Artistic Director Christine Meneer when the first “Nutcracker” was cast. He was 16 and Joshua was just a couple of years older.

Since then, Jeremiah Isley said the ballet has been a family tradition. He usually gets a call from Meneer in early September to make sure he’s onboard.

“This year, I just got the rehearsal schedule,” he said. “Unless I lose a limb, it’s pretty much presumed I’ll be there. Through lots of changes in my life — career, marriage, children — the ‘Nutcracker’ has been a constant. It’s kind of just become part of the rhythm of my life.”

Now working as a sound engineer, Jeremiah Isley said he is fortunate to be able to make his own schedule.

“In different careers along the way, one of those questions I’d ask in job interviews was, ‘How flexible are you around Thanksgiving?’” he said.

Although Jeremiah Isley has been playing the Mouse King for more than half his life, the role has never grown stale.

“We show up toward the end of October and there are little things here and there we change every year — things that just organically come out during rehearsal,” he said.

Although he dropped dance classes many years ago, it hasn’t affected his part in the production.

“It’s more a character part. It’s not a heavy [dance] technique part,” he said.

The “Nutcracker” may be an Isley family tradition for many years to come. Jeremiah Isley and his brother each have had their children appear as the newborn in the production’s party scene. This year, Joshua Isley’s children, Bishop, 7, and Eowyn, 5, will make their debuts as dancers in the production.

Now 40, Jeremiah Isley said the Mouse King costume, last redesigned almost 20 years ago, still fits. But every September, he starts running and working out — just to make sure, he said.

In this year’s production, Coventry Middle School student Rachel Sulek will reprise the role of Clara for the Nov. 26-27 performances. In the Dec. 3-4 productions, Stow-Munroe Falls High School student Hailey Molchen will dance the role of Clara.

Carli Sison, of Bath, will appear in the ballet’s advanced chorus as a Snowflake, a Flower and an Arabian and Bath resident Rylie Banks will appear as a Marzipan, according to Meneer.

Rachel Rauh, an advanced student in the Christine Jones-Meneer School of Dance, will dance the role of the Snow Queen, a part usually reserved for a professional dancer, Meneer said.

“She’s that good,” Meneer added.

Guest artists for the production include BTO alumna Megan Coleman Stuart as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Damien Highfield as the Cavalier and Ethan Lee.

“Every year it’s a totally different show because totally different people are dancing the roles,” Meneer said. “Hundreds of families come back every year. It’s just their holiday tradition.”

And all lead characters will appear in the Akron Civic Theatre lobby to greet children and sign autographs, Meneer said.

“It’s a very magical show — that’s the single best adjective I can use to describe it,” said Meneer. “It’s a magical place, a beautifully entertaining ballet with stunning costumes and great classical music. In addition to all that is the magnificent Akron Civic Theatre.”

“Nutcracker” is a full-length, two-act ballet with a 20-minute intermission.

In keeping with its tradition, BTO’s “Nutcracker” experience offers more than just the ballet. Doors will open one hour before each performance so families can have their photos taken with the 20-foot-tall Nutcracker Christmas tree decorated with pointe shoes crafted into the ballet’s characters, Meneer said. Guests will be greeted by the Nutcracker and his soldiers, who will hand out candy canes.

Santa Claus also will greet children and hear their Christmas wishes in Santa Land, complete with elves and vignettes of the North Pole, said Meneer.

The Gingerbread Room will be home to a variety of gingerbread houses, including a 7-foot replica of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens’ Manor House crafted by Cuyahoga Falls dentist John Learner. The Nutcracker Sweets table will be laden with holiday brownies, cookies and other goodies, Meneer said.

The BTO Boutique this year will be stocked with more than 100 specialty nutcrackers and tree ornaments, she added. These boutique items include the ballet’s characters as nutcrackers as well as nutcrackers styled as Elvis, Santa’s elves, Snoopy, wizards and characters from “Star Wars” and “The Wizard of Oz,” she said. Nutcrackers start at $16, Meneer said.

Matinee performances are Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3-4 at 2 p.m. and evening performances are Nov. 26 and Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Civic, located at 182 S. Main St. Tickets are $34 and $46 and are available by calling BTO at 330-688-6065, from the Civic Box Office at 330-253-2488 or online at Ticketmaster.com.

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