Production enters ninth year with many veteran dancers


FARMINGTON — Students at the Mann Dance Academy will raise the curtain on their ninth annual production of the Christmas classic "The Nutcracker" this weekend at San Juan College, but director Judy Mann never worries about the production growing stale.

"I think the thing that keeps it fresh every year is we're working with so many young people," she said. "Their energy keeps it fresh every year."

There are other elements that contribute to that lack of staleness, she said. Mann said many of the costumes are new each year, and there is a good deal of latitude in the production as to which dances will be used. In fact, she said, she already is putting together a list of ideas to enhance next year's show.

But Mann isn't interested in changing the production too much. Much of the appeal of "The Nutcracker" has to do with that fact that it is a holiday tradition, she said.

"We stick to the classical storyline and classical ballet," she said.

That approach also allows Mann to hit the ground running with the production each year, she said. Rehearsals started in September, but some of her students began learning the lead roles for audition purposes in July. The production is an enormous undertaking and will feature the talents of 160 performers ranging in age from 9 to 23.

Even younger dance students will be featured in a performance of Christmas dances that precedes "The Nutcracker" production. That performance, a new addition, features students ranging in age from 3 to 8.

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The academy also stages a large spring production each year, but Mann said the popularity of "The Nutcracker" is unparalleled, with its two performances usually being performed to close-to-capacity audiences. Mann has so many students that some of the roles are performed by different dancers in each show, just to provide all of them with the opportunity to appear on stage.

Mann believes the productions have gotten better each year as her students have matured artistically and grown more comfortable with the material. A good portion of the cast has performed the show for several years, she noted.

"There's some real dedication going on," she said. "Their technical abilities have grown in nine years."

The entire production lasts approximately 90 minutes with an intermission, she said, and that helps make it something that parents or grandparents can enjoy with small children without the latter becoming too fidgety.

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Mann said anyone who has never seen her academy's production of "The Nutcracker" is in for a treat.

"I would say we're producing the most beautiful ballerinas in the Four Corners, and the kids in the community need and deserve to have the public see them," she said.

The chance to show what they have learned is important to her students, Mann said, adding that she takes a lot of joy in seeing her dancers perform.

"It's seeing the success of the dancers and the progress of the dancers and knowing we gave them and their families something to celebrate right at Christmas," she said. "It makes Christmas fun."

"The Nutcracker" will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Theater on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Tickets are $10 for adults, and $8 for students and seniors. Call 505-564-3845.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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