Siblings share stage in Lafayette Ballet’s The Nutcracker

Photo by ANGELA STERLINGChalnessa Eames of the Pacific Northwest Ballet performed as the Sugar Plum Fairy in last year's The Nutcracker in Lafayette.
Photo by ANGELA STERLINGChalnessa Eames of the Pacific Northwest Ballet performed as the Sugar Plum Fairy in last year's The Nutcracker in Lafayette.

If Clara and Fritz in The Nutcracker’s matinee show seem to have the brother-sister bickering down to a tee, there’s just cause.

Clara is Nina Castille and her brother, Sam, is Fritz.

“We have two Claras each season, and they’re both beautiful little seventh grade dancers. They’re both 12. What I find interesting about one Clara is that her brother plays the role of Fritz, so we have a real sister and brother team, and that’s the first time we’ve had that,” Shannon Heath, co-artistic director of the Lafayette Ballet Theatre, said.

But do the siblings get along off-stage?

“No and they don’t get along in the ballet either, so it works out ideally. They’re supposed to be at odds in the production so we have a very real family atmosphere. It’s actually quite precious. There’s no acting involved. It’s very easy to believe,” Heath said.

A new dancer to the LBT, Sophie Flores, of Youngsville, will be Clara in the Saturday performance.

“This year is our largest cast so far, it’s 165,” Heath said. “Lots of children travel. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work with so many from outside the parish.”

While one young dancer comes from New Orleans for the weekend auditions, several others travel from Acadia, Iberia, St. Martin, St. Landry, Vermilion and Vernon parishes, in addition to the many cast members from Lafayette Parish.

Traveling even further will be the four professional guest artists, all from the Pacific Northwest Ballet of Seattle.

New to Lafayette’s production of the classic, two-act Tchaikovsky ballet and dancing major roles are Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz.

“They’re a beautiful couple. He’s a principal dancer and she’s a soloist, and they’re actually married. So they’re a real Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince,” Heath said.

Last year’s Sugar Plum Fairy, Chalnessa Eames, also of the PNB, was scheduled to reprise her role this season but an injury has prevented that, Heath said. Another PNB dancer William Lin-Lee will portray Mr. Staubaum and the Spanish male lead, while Timothy Lynch will play Drosselmeyer.

The troupe has a long relationship with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, whose dancers fit well into the Lafayette production, Heath said.

“Not every company has guest artists that really enjoy working with younger students. It takes a special kind of dancer I think. And these principal dancers serve as a very important role model for these younger students that they work with. They really do form an important impression.”

The guest artists won’t travel to Lafayette until the week of the show, but there’s much to do before that, Heath said.

“The local dancers carry a huge part of this production. The guests artists come in and they’re like the icing on the top of the cake, but they do work somewhat independent of us, so we do work on the entire production from beginning to ending with just local artists,” she said.

The work always includes tweaking The Nutcracker that was presented the previous year.

“We add things to it each and every season,” Heath said. “We basically change sometimes the number of dancers in a variation, or the choreography. This year we’ve changed many of the costumes, especially for act two. It just helps to refresh and bring new life to the ballet.”

The running of the production is also somewhat of a family affair. Heath’s sister, Mitzi Heath, is the co-artistic director of LBT, while their mother, Patty Heath, designs the elaborate costumes.

“There are lots of seamstresses. My mom is actually the designer of the costumes and she creates the initial design and basically usually cuts out all of the costumes,” Heath said. “She has a dance supply store in town, and she did a lot of work for the Ice Capades when she lived in New York, and did work with the School of American Ballet.”

Specifically, Heath said her mother is changing up the costume for the lead in the Snow Scene, all of the children’s costumes for the Polichinelles, and the costumes for the Chinese variation and the Waltz of the Flowers.

“It brings a whole new glitz and glamor to the second act,” she said.

The Lafayette Ballet Theatre, a nonprofit ballet company and arts education outreach organization, continues its tradition of the annual fundraiser “Land of the Sweets.” This social event immediately follows the Sunday matinee performance (about 4 p.m.) at the Heymann Convention Center (behind the theater). Guests may enjoy coffee or soft drinks while sampling hors d’oeuvres and sweets from area restaurants. Stars of The Nutcracker will sign autographs and pose for photos.

“It’s a great reception that includes the audience and it’s so much fun. So many sweets you would not believe,” Heath said.