The red curtain rises at the majestic Hoyt Sherman Place Theater. Fog cascades out into the audience, which is peppered with excited dancers, their parents and the staff of Ballet Des Moines.
Twelve ballerinas — ranging in age from 5 to 17 — command the stage. All eyes are riveted as the young dancers begin to rehearse the second act of "The Nutcracker Ballet."
“You come in and you just feel the energy and the Christmas spirit,” said West Des Moines dancer Maria Beacom, 15. “You can’t have Christmas without 'The Nutcracker'."
The upcoming Ballet Des Moines production of the beloved Christmas ballet will feature professional dancers from Mexico, Colorado and Ohio. Also, more than 250 student dancers from Des Moines, West Des Moines, Clive and Waukee will perform four shows beginning on Friday and wrapping up on Sunday at Hoyt Sherman Place.
“The story 'The Nutcracker' kind of fits the ambiance of the theater,” said Serkan Usta, artistic director for Ballet Des Moines, who with his wife, Lori Grooters, owns the School of Classical Ballet and Dance in West Des Moines.
“There’s so much excitement when we get to the theater,” Grooters said during rehearsals. “When we’re doing the costumes, the makeup, the lighting and the fog — that’s the magic of the whole performance experience.”
The two-act ballet, with its well-known score by Tchaikovsky, is very familiar among the dancers. Many have previously performed in a Nutcracker production. They’ve also been rehearsing weekly since September.
The main character of Clara is performed by Emma Heithoff, 12, of Clive. She has been dancing since age three. Her brown curls bounced as she rehearsed. This is her third year with "The Nutcracker."
Heithoff said: “It’s really fun to be in 'The Nutcracker' because there’s a lot of different people that you look up to — you see the professionals and you’re like, ‘wow, I’m going to do that someday.’”
Beacom, 15, has danced for 11 years. This is her ninth performance in "The Nutcracker." She described dancing as her “true love.”
“It’s the only art form where you can use your body,” she said. “You are the art.”
Waukee dancer Mikaela Jagim, 15, has been dancing since age three. She hopes one day to dance in Los Angeles or New York.
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of commitment,” Jagim said, of performing in the ballet.
Olivia Johnson, 10, of Clive, rehearsed this week in a lilac costume with purple flowers in her hair. Her mother, Rebecca, sat in the audience.
“It’s really fun to be on stage,” she said. “It just makes you feel all wonderful in your costume.”
An army of parent volunteers watch over dancers and help with several tasks.
Parent Patty Kerr sat in the dim theater during rehearsal.
Her 10-year-old daughter, Katherine, is a “Petal on Pointe.” The family moved to West Des Moines from Canada. Her daughter, who has a pre-competitive gymnastics background, also dances at Usta and Grooters’ school.
“This Nutcracker performance is totally professional, well-organized,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things about it.”
Rebecca Johnson’s 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, is also a “Petal on Pointe.” The mother from Clive said seeing her daughter dance is exciting, and past performances mesmerized her husband, Casey.
“There were all these other people on stage, but he couldn’t look at anybody but her the entire time she was out there,” she said of Casey. “He couldn’t look at anybody else.”
Ballet Des Moines
Serkan Usta, the artistic director for Ballet Des Moines, said Des Moines needs a professional ballet company all its own.
“If there is no company, they will leave and hone their talents in other cities,” Usta said, of budding dancers.
Rachel Gross has been executive director of Ballet Des Moines for a year. She majored in dance at the University of Iowa before getting a degree in performing arts management in Illinois.
“It’s been a pretty big season for us,” she said. “We have two dancers coming from Mexico this year. I’m really excited to see them dance.”
Parents hope to see Ballet Des Moines continue to grow.
“I think everyone should support Ballet Des Moines,” said Kerr, the West Des Moines parent. “It really does support young dancers in Iowa.”
Johnson, the Clive parent, agrees.
“I think that the Des Moines market can support it,” she said. “It’s wonderful for the girls to see the professional dancers and be part of the show and to see what they could potentially do in the future.”
The company’s next show is "The Wizard of Oz" and will be performed on April 7 at the Des Moines Civic Center.
Cost: Tickets start at $23 and can be purchased at the Hoyt Sherman Place Box Office or through www.ticketmaster.com. For more information call (515) 440-1177.
Times: 7 p.m. Friday
1 and 7 p.m. Saturday
1 p.m. Sunday
Place: Hoyt Sherman Place, 1501 Woodland Ave, Des Moines, IA.
Friday School Performances
About 1,383 children from Des Moines metro area schools will get to see "The Nutcracker" performed on Friday in two performances at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The performances are narrated and shortened to help the children understand the story. The students will be bused in from Des Moines, Carlisle, Monroe, North Polk, West Des Moines and Waukee.
“You walk out and all of the school kids are like ‘oh my gosh that was you up there,’” said Waukee dancer Mikaela Jagim, 15.