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‘Nutcracker’ production a family affair

11/19/2015 - West Side Leader
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By Pam Lifke

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King face off during Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s production of “The Nutcracker,” which will be performed Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 5-6 at the Akron Civic Theatre. The Mouse King is played by Jeremiah Isley, who has performed that role for all 23 years the company has produced the show, beginning when he was a teenager.
Photo courtesy of Ballet Theatre of Ohio
DOWNTOWN AKRON — This year’s Ballet Theatre of Ohio (BTO) production of “The Nutcracker” is quite the family affair.

Four members of Barberton’s Sulek family will appear in this year’s production, said Christine Meneer, BTO artistic director. “The Nutcracker” will be performed Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 5-6 at the Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St.

Rachel Sulek, a seventh-grader at Coventry Middle School, will dance the role of Clara Nov. 28-29. She will be joined on stage by her mother, Kim Sulek, doing double duty both as Clara’s grandmother and as Mother Ginger, who hides the Gingerbread Children under her voluminous skirt in Act II. Rachel’s younger sister, Rebekah Sulek, is a peppermint in the Land of Sweets and her brother, Adam Sulek, a second-grader, will play Clara’s mischievous younger brother Fritz.

The Suleks are veterans of the production, now in its 23rd year. Kim Sulek, who teaches with Meneer at the Christine Jones-Meneer School of Dance, has missed performing in the company’s “Nutcracker” production only one year in its 22-year history, said Meneer.

Rachel, Adam, Rebekah and their older brother, Ethan, all made their debuts as living props for the production. Each appeared in the ballet’s party scene when they were just babes in arms, Meneer said.

Rachel is a “beautiful dancer” who has been a “studio rat,” at Meneer’s school since she began dance lessons at age 3, Meneer said. Rachel dances seven days a week and “pretty much lives [at the studio],” she added. She studies ballet, jazz and tap and is a member of the dance school’s Dance Kraze competition team, said Meneer.

“She’s quite a little veteran at such a young age,” she said.

For the 23rd consecutive season, brothers Joshua Isley (Drosselmeyer) and Jeremiah Isley (the Mouse King) will be part of the production, Meneer said. The Isleys were teenagers studying jazz dance at Meneer’s studio when BTO staged its first “Nutcracker,” she said.

“The Isleys have never missed a production in 23 years,” she said. “I cannot even think about what it would be like without them.”

And, after 23 years, the brothers still fit into the costumes, she added.

Paige Skripac, an eighth-grade student at Kimpton Middle School in Munroe Falls, will dance the role of Clara Dec. 5-6. Skripac is a veteran in the part, having danced as Clara in a previous BTO production. Paige also began dance lessons at age 3 with Meneer’s studio. She is an advanced dancer who is “an amazing actress” and shows a lot of promise, Meneer said.

The cast also includes several guest dancers, including BTO alumnae Megan Coleman Stuart as the Snow Queen Nov. 28-29 and Jennifer Moll Safonovs of Neos Dance Theatre as the Sugar Plum Fairy both weekends and as the Snow Queen Dec. 5-6. Other guest dancers are Damien Highfield of GroundWorks DanceTheater, Ethan Lee of Neos and Brian Murphy.

The production is just part of the “Nutcracker” experience, Meneer said. From the moment ticket holders enter the theater and are greeted with candy canes by the Nutcracker and his soldiers, it’s a magical experience, she said.

“It’s a really fun family day — not just a ballet,” said Meneer. “Just being in the Civic Theatre is worth the price of admission.”

Doors of the theater will open one hour before each performance so children can visit with Santa in a room surrounded by vignettes of the elves’ busy “North Pole” workshop. The Nutcracker Tree — a favorite spot for family photos — will take its usual spot of honor at the top of the grand staircase, Meneer said. And following each performance, all lead characters will appear in the theater lobby to greet fans and sign autographs, said Meneer.

A BTO boutique with a selection of 100 nutcrackers will be set up at each performance. The ballet company also will benefit from the Nutcracker Sweets table with holiday brownies, cookies and other sweets for sale, she added.

Matinee performances are Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 5-6 at 2 p.m. Evening performances are Nov. 28 and Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. Reserved seat tickets are $34 and $46 and are available at the Civic Theatre Box Office walk-up window across the street from the theater on the first floor of the Ohio Building. The box office is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and two hours prior to each performance. Ticket orders placed by telephone directly with the Civic Theatre Box Office are eligible for a 25 percent discount when callers give the code WSL15, said Meneer. The box office can be reached at 330-253-2488. Tickets also are available at ticketmaster.com.

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