Little angels of the ‘Nutcracker’

For more than 50 years, George Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” has been the gateway for thousands of first-time ballet dancers.

The Pennsylvania Ballet’s annual production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” begins this weekend.

Balanchine’s estate controls which ballet companies can have the rights to perform his copyrighted ballet, and how they do it. His version is the only one that requires actual children to play the parts of children.

For more than 50 years, it has been the gateway for thousands of first-time ballet dancers.

The Pennsylvania Ballet mines local neighborhood dance schools to find dozens of young hopefuls. Madeline Angelides’ first time on a professional stage will be as an angel.

“As an angel, you get to open the second act, which I like a lot,” said the 9-year old.  “Also, you get the dance with the Sugar Plum Fairy, which is special.”

Madeline has been dancing ballet since she was 3 — not unusual among “Nutcracker” angels. Many discovered ballet early because they watched an older sister or brother dance.

Eight year-old Anika Bergofin’s mother started taking classes only about a year ago.

“I started ballet because my mom took ballet, and I like how she liked her teacher. I decided it would be fun if I did it too,” said Anika, who splits her time between ballet and soccer.

Part of the appeal for many of the young performers is the angelic costume they get to wear, complete with halo, as they welcome the main character into a fantasyland.

Isabelle Beatus, 9, says the dance itself is kind of easy – the hard part is knowing where to stand.

“I enjoy watching ballet. I’ve always dreamed of actually doing it,” said Isabelle. “I feel really happy I got in. It’s a dream come true.”

Isabelle will not be dancing every day — the Pennsylvania Ballet rotates several dozen children through the roles during the month-long run of the holiday classic. With 85 dancers for each show, the Nutcracker is the largest production the Pennsylvania Ballet stages.

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