- Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
They come and go so quickly.
Oh, sure, some lucky ballet dancers manage to extend their careers for decades. Others happily switch to congruent creative roles at a convenient age. But just when you think you’ve identified all the major players in Ballet Austin — which opens its holiday treat, “The Nutcracker,” on Dec. 8 — myriad new faces joins the familiar ones onstage.
Already this season, veteran ballet watchers have noted a spate of younger talent on the Long Center stage. Now you can catch all of them through Dec. 23 because, for “The Nutcracker,” it’s all feet on deck.
Often a major role will be played by multiple dancers over the course of a long run. Watch for the relative newcomers during the Christmas party scene in Act 1, or dancing through snowflake magic as part of the corps de ballet later in the same act, or playing featured roles during the divertissements — the always diverting specialty dances — in Act 2. And elsewhere.
Some of these dancers are newly minted members of the main company; others serve in Ballet Austin II, the group’s farm team, as it were.
Now, we are not talking about the darling tots who hide under Mother Ginger’s huge skirt or play with gifts while teasing each other during the party sequence. These are professional dancers who have more recently come into the spotlight. Let’s introduce a few.
Katherine “Katie” Deuitch
Ballet Austin presents “The Nutcracker” almost 20 times each December, including six school shows that split the acts up. “Keeping the energy fresh after so many performances” is not easy, Deuitch says. “The nerves sort of die down after a few shows, but it’s important to keep the adrenaline going.” She first appeared with the group in 2016 and currently serves in the apprentice company. In this show, she’s a parent in the holiday party scene, then she appears with the snow and “Waltz of the Flower” corps. A dancer since 2002, she looks forward to the moment “when you can forget the little technical things and focus on performing and enjoying yourself. There’s something about being on stage that gives you confidence. It’s also great when you have a super energetic audience.”
A member of Ballet Austin’s main company, Doyle juggles four roles in “The Nutcracker,” including the governess in the first act. Her initial dance class was back in 1998, and she joined the local group in 2015. “Ballet Austin provides an environment that is both nurturing and challenging for its artists,” she says. “The repertoire we get to learn and perform is exciting and rewarding.” She finds it a strain to remain mentally clear when physically exhausted, especially on days when they perform multiple times. But that is balanced by the ecstasy of sharing with the audience, “whether that is a story, an emotion, or simply the joy and beauty of movement. There’s also a closeness and camaraderie between the dancers that’s incredibly unique and beautiful.”
“Ballet Austin is a New Age company with innovative repertoire,” says Finley, who recently joined Ballet Austin II. He started dance classes 17 years ago and first performed in a ballet five years later. He says it is tough “to make sure I am in a certain mindset and mood before the performance and also making sure any of my pre-performance routines are taken care of.” Because of his costume, you won’t be able to recognize him among the rats in “The Nutcracker,” but he’ll be front and center for the Spanish- and Russian-themed dances. “You get out there and feel the freedom to express yourself and give everything you have to the audience,” he says. “When you’re doing what you love, it feels like nothing can stop you. There is nothing quite like it.”
Now in his second year as a Ballet Austin II member, Gattozzi plays the double role of nephew/prince and joins the Russian dance corps. “I love the community and atmosphere in the studio,” he says, despite “the long theater hours leading up to the performance.” He finds that the time onstage makes it all worthwhile. “When I perform, I go into another zone that is freeing and exhilarating,” he says. “I love hearing the audience receive the performance well because I was able to help bring them to another world and think outside of their normal.”
Kanning likes the fact that Ballet Austin’s repertoire includes classical and contemporary pieces. “The smaller company size makes for a good work environment where everyone gets to know each other well,” she says. “I just get so excited out there that I have to make sure I still stay focused on the choreography.” Remarkably, Kanning took her first dance class in 2002 and made her first performance that same year. A member of the apprentice company, she looks forward to her “Nutcracker” appearances in the snow and flower corps: “Just knowing that we are making something magical for the audience just by doing what we love.”
Martin earned three plum roles in “The Nutcracker.” He not only dances in the Chinese and French numbers but also plays the key Harlequin Doll. Martin is a full company member who made his debut with the group in 2015. “Ballet Austin is constantly supporting the creation of new works and actively attempting to engage and inform the general public,” he says. “Working for Ballet Austin is an exciting learning experience.” While dealing with the stress of making sure every performance is what he expects, he loves being a part of the flow of things onstage: “In that ‘flow’ is a fantastic feeling.”
A member of the apprentice company, Moller began dancing in 2001 and took to the ballet stage in 2003. This is her first year with the Ballet Austin assembly. Look for her in the party, snowflake and flower scenes, although it will be hard to pick her out from the crowd because in the corps de ballet she is expected to reflect exactly what other dancers are doing at the time. She says she has a hard time letting go of nerves to be present onstage, but when it happens, she cherishes “the feeling that you have given the audience a fulfilling and entertaining experience.”
Also an alumna of the summer intensive program, Russell joined Ballet Austin II this year and partakes in the exacting precision of the corps de ballet scenes in “The Nutcracker.” “Personally, the most challenging part of performing a ballet is really portraying the story,” she says. “It is something I’ve always struggled with, but with practice I like to think it has gotten a little stronger. You really just have to be vulnerable, have an open mind, and truly become the part you are dancing.” Still, the spectators are crucial. “It’s always so hard to predict how the audience may react to the ballet, but it can really make or break how you’re feeling,” Russell says. “If the audience is great, it really makes you feel amazing, and it makes you perform at your best!”
At age 5, Schmidt took her first ballet class. One year later, in 2004, she made her debut as a fairy, “tutu and all.” She joined the Ballet Austin family in 2016 and now serves in its apprentice company. “I first came (for the) summer intensive (program) and while I was here, I saw that they really cared about helping me to grow as a dancer,” Schmidt says. In “The Nutcracker,” she can be seen as a snowflake and in “Waltz of the Flowers.” “The hardest part for me is finding the balance between trying to do everything perfectly and remembering to relax and have fun onstage,” she says. “One of my favorite things is hearing the audience’s feedback — not just applause, but also their laughter and sighs.”
In his first year with Ballet Austin, Stillman won the part of the Snow King, along with two other roles. That’s a coup. Already a fairly experienced performer, he dances with the main company. “I had heard wonderful things about Ballet Austin, so I decided to audition,” Stillman says. “I love the company; we are treated well. I also love this city.” He finds timing his movements to the orchestra’s music a challenge. “Sometimes they will play slower or faster than the tempo you are used to rehearsing,” he says. “But it’s also fun to work with so many great musicians — they really add to the power of the dance.”
“The best part of performing is when you’re in the moment,” Thorstensen says. “The hardest part is remembering to be in the moment.” After starting classes in 2000, she appeared in a production of “The Sleeping Beauty” six years later. This is her first year in Ballet Austin II. “I love the diverse repertoire and the culture of the company,” she says. “Even as an apprentice, it feels as though the artistic staff is devoted to helping us and pushing us to be the best artists we can be.” Where to find her in “The Nutcracker”? As a member of the corps in the flower and snow scenes.