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Lodi dancers take the stage at ‘The Nutcracker’

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Posted: Friday, December 15, 2017 3:30 pm

On Saturday, tiny dancers will portray mice, dolls, snowflakes, angels and — of course — a nutcracker when the classic Christmas ballet comes to Hutchins Street Square.

The Christmas tradition follows the story of Clara, who gathers with her family to celebrate Christmas. During the party, the mysterious Drosselmeyer, a talented toymaker and magician, brings toys for the children, including a Nutcracker carved to look like a soldier.

Clara is heartbroken when her brother, Fritz, breaks the Nutcracker. After everyone has gone to bed, she sneaks back to the parlor to retrieve the toy, but when the clock strikes midnight, she is whisked off to a fantasy world where she is caught between an army of mice and gingerbread soldiers led by the Nutcracker.

Soon, she is on an adventure in the Land of Sweets, where treats from around the world dance for her.

“It kind of has this perfect trajectory,” said Kermit Allen, who directs the Lodi production.

There are battle scenes for those who love action, the snow scene with dancers in fluffy white tutus, and dances with elements from around the world, he said.

“It’s something for everyone,” he said.

Allen teaches the ballet program at Hutchins Street Square, along with classes at the Deane Dance Center in Sacramento.

He’s directed “The Nutcracker” for three years, after the first production was staged in Lodi 12 years ago by Judy Pittman. When Pittman moved with her husband to the East Coast, she recommended that Allen take over the Lodi ballet program, he said.

“One of the things that’s kind of fun about this particular version is, there’s always something new,” Allen said.

Some years, Allen has more advanced students. For example, this year, two of the girls will be performing en pointe, he said.

“The girls keep on getting better every year,” he said.

Other years, he has more new, younger dancers.

Unlike a professional dance company, he never knows what his mix is going to be until that year, so he has to change up roles and choreography to suit the skill level of his dancers.

In three years, he’s choreographed three different versions of the Arabian dance, he said. Each version changes to highlight the students’ strengths.

It’s a challenge he relishes. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

“You’re watching young kids perform,” he said. “It’s not stuffy adults.”

The kids, their parents and the rest of the audience have a lot of fun with the story.

“It’s really about the students,” Allen said.

It’s that labor of love that draws him to put on the production each year. Unlike the classes he teaches at the Square, his production of “The Nutcracker” is not directly paid for by parents. Instead, he pays for the production out of pocket, then hopes to make up the difference in ticket sales.

That includes all of the costumes — such as the new doll costumes this year — and set pieces. Allen also helps design all of the lighting, music and sound. Volunteers from the dancers’ families help to make sure the show goes off without a hitch.

So far, he’s broken even each year, thanks to Lodi residents turning out for the ballet.

“We depend on the support of the community coming out to see the show,” he said.

Of course, the magic of “The Nutcracker” itself is another incentive.

“I love ‘The Nutcracker,’” Allen said.

The ballet was one of the reasons Allen went into dance in the first place, he said. A Cincinatti production helped to spark his love of the art form, and he studied ballet at the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music. He’s continued to study various styles of ballet, and he has danced with Ballet Austin and the Sacramento Ballet.

Now, he loves to pass on his passion for ballet to Lodi students. “The Nutcracker” gives the young dancers the chance to experience performing in front of an audience and rehearsing for a production.

Allen plans to continue “The Nutcracker” and the program’s other shows as long as the community continues to support them, he said.

He loves to see his students succeed, from their first appearance on stage until they go off to college.

“I love dancing, and I love seeing them do well,” he said.

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