The Russians are coming

BRBT puts La. spin on holiday classic 'The Nutcracker'

Christmas wouldn’t be the same if there were no Russians.

Anyone familiar with the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker — A Tale from the Bayou” can testify to this fact.

Especially Neil Courter. He was a seventh grader at Episcopal High School when he started playing one of the three Russians who welcomes Clara and her Prince to the Land of Sweets. He’s now 20 and a sophomore at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

“I make it home in time to play a Russian in ‘The Nutcracker,’” Courter says. “Last year was the only year I was unable to make it, because the show conflicted with my exams. Christmas didn’t seem the same. Playing the Russian is definitely a big part of my Christmas holidays.”

  • “The Nutcracker — A Tale from the Bayou” opens Dec. 21 in the Baton Rouge River Center Theater for the Performing Arts. The Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, directed by Associate Conductor David Torns, will provide accompaniment.
  • In 1991, the ballet theater’s co-directors Molly Buchmann and Sharon Mathews created this Louisiana take on Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet. This Bayou State version opens to find the young Clara meeting her Parrain on the porch of a Cajun cabin.
  • Parrain tells Clara a story about a gallant nutcracker, who finds his way into her dreams.

Clara’s dream transforms her familiar world into something magical.

For what castle could be more enchanting to a bayou girl than Louisiana’s Old State Capitol as the Kingdom of Sweets’ centerpiece?

And it’s in this castle where Clara and her Prince are welcomed by the Russians.

  • This is one of the anticipated scenes. The three Russians are gymnasts who tumble on to the stage in a bundle of energy, leaping high and performing feats usually reserved for the floor exercise in a gymnastics competition. But the stage can be more taxing than a competition, says Courter.
  • He started taking gymnastics at age 10 and now competes on the collegiate level.

“The stage is a smaller space, and we have a spring floor in competition,” Courter says. “So, the stage can be a little bit taxing on the knees, but we wear special cushioned shoes, so it works out.”

Courter’s fellow Russians are Deilia Ardoin, Tessa White and Leah Courter, who also is his sister.

Courter will appear in all four performances, while the others will alternate shows.

And they will come together to add a peppermint twist to the Kingdom of Sweets.

Well, that’s the flavor that comes to mind at the mention of candy canes, the treat represented by the Russians in this kingdom.

In Act II, the Prince brings Clara to the Kingdom of Sweets, which is ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy until the Prince’s return.

A parade of international sweets, including chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia and tea from China, is given in her honor. And it all begins with candy canes from Russia.

“We have a lot of fun as the Russians,” says Ardoin, a sophomore at St. Joseph’s Academy. “This is my second year playing one of the Russians.”

Ardoin trains at C.G.’s Gymnastics, where Leah Courter is her competition teammate. It’s also where Neil Courter trains when he is in Baton Rouge.

Ardoin progressed to the part of Russian after playing a lamb, then a mouse in past shows. So, she was already familiar with the space before tumbling across the stage.

Not so for Courter. He’d never stepped on the River Center Theater’s stage before “The Nutcracker.”

“It was my first time to perform in front of an audience on stage,” he says. “I was nervous at first, but now I’m used to it. I know the part.”

And though he lives in Virginia during the school year, he has no worries. The Russians are part of his life.

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without them.

  • CAST: Cajun Girl and Clara: Juliet Alise, Kelsie Guzik, Alyssa Rainey, Eva Kruger; Parrain and Uncle Drosselmeyer: Leonard Augustus Jr.; Fritz: Alex St. Cyr and Christian Mack; Mr. Stahlbaum: Brad Blanchard; Mrs. Stahlbaum: Sonya Blanchard and Pamela Matassa; Grandfather: Rick Holden; Grandmother: Robbie Phillabaum and Norma Rutledge; Guests: Jalin Cage, Glen Duncan, Ryan Chenevert, Ryn Jones, Sarah Rath, Katherine Landry, Reneé Puyau Stelzer, Elizabeth Mathews, Wayne Talbot, Kelly Poiencot, Hayley Paige Westphal, Ob Soonthornsima; The Maid: Jessica Watson and Jenny Heroman; The Butler: William O. Watson IV and Adam Koenig; Children: Beau Blanchard, Charlotte Balart, Molly Beth Blanchard, Nicholas Burrell, Catherine Bonaventure, Jean Luc Doucet, Nicholas Burrell, Parker Garrett, Jean Luc Doucet, Noah Hawkins, Parker Garrett, Martin Helouin, Molly Glenn, Nicholas Honoré, Noah Hawkins, Benton Jones, Olivia Landrem, Grace Hidalgo, Elena Monette, Chloe Higgins, Kylle Poiencot, Cristina Riazuelo, Joanna McBride, Elise Saloom, LeAnn Morrison, Leongé Turner, Kylle Poiencot, Cassie Yang, Katherine Scott, Estelle Yeargain. Dolls: Christine Perkins, Katie Rose DeLeo, Meredith Broussard, Emelia Perkins, Alexis Herringon, Mary Beth Maddox; Bear: Erin Molly Mann and Allison Ward; Mouse King: Marlon Grigsby; The Nutcracker: Le’Brian Patrick; Mice: Olivia Allen, Logan Burge, Avery Claire Bateman, Isabel Clements, Caroline Boone, Ansley Brown, Tori Cedotal, Victoria Dooley, Ansley Brown, Catherine Carline, McCall Emone, Maggie Coyle, Andrea Chen, Hayley Gregoire, Claire Garbutt, Morgan Gallegos, Callie Hardy, Tyler Howell Martinez, Claire Johnson, Olivia Monette, Grace Gonzales, Emma Grace Marangos, Claire Johnson, Emily Poche, Auri Mancik, Laney McCrary, Madison Sanchez, Emily Poche, Caroline Petty, Laney Varnado, Lexy Smicker, Ella Roussel, Beau Willis, Elizabeth Zaffuto, Maria Belle Smith, Cooper Willis; Soldiers: Mary Grace Beck, Grace Asevedo, Grace Bordelon, Jordan Boshea, Sara Brandenburg, Charlotte Rose Coyle, Marissa Bosley, Estelle Crawford, Leah Cox, Autumn Braud, Giselle Doucet, Elizbeth Jones, Natalie Gaspard, Aubrie Juneau, Elizabeth Jones,Teddy Helouin, Megan Littleton, Anna Kathryn Jones, Lauren Michelli, Katherine Landrem, Ana Luisa Rodriguez, Lauren Michelli, Anna Matherne, Claire White, Abby Shortess, Natalie Wilder,Claire White, Sydney Veazie; Snow Queen and Snow King: Erica Cornejo and Carols Molina; Snow Soloists: Meredith Broussard, Caroline Schulenberg, Alexis Herrington, Marci Mallett; Snowflakes: Emma Camille Barbin, Estelle Crawford, Clarie Broyles, Casey Chabaud, Katie Rose DeLeo Madison Dillenberger, Elise Farris, Delaney Dufrene, Madeline Ford, Hannah Gale, Mary Beth Maddox, Claire Gregoire, Brittany Nettles, Emelia Perkins, Campbell Wall, Elizabeth Talbot, Olivia Zachary. Understudies: Grace Bordelon, Marissa Bosley, Charlotte Rose Coyle, Ana Luisa Rodriguez, Abby Shortess; Angels: Emma Camille Barbin, Grace Bordelon, Marissa Bosley, Estelle Crawford, Elise Farris, Giselle Doucet, Megan Littleton, Madeline Ford,Ana Luisa Rodriguez, Claire Gregoire, Abby Shortess; Cherubs: Anna Baumgartner, Elizabeth Baudoin, Alexis DeQueiroz, Madison Noelle Birdwell, Noelle Braud, Elle Black, Carolyn Herman,Abigail Gibson, Madison Maria Davis, Caroline Cresap, Hannah Hunt, McKinley Howard, Amanda Johnson, Chloe D’Angelo, Aubrey Jones, Nijah Raby, Lilly Leonard, Sophia D’Angelo, Gillian LaFleur, Dylan Seaman, Ellie Prados, Madeline deVries, Isabella Landaiche,Adrienne Simmons, Alexis DeQueiroz, Caroline Latuso. Kelci Simon, Emmie Stevens, Caroline Gaspard, Angel Legro, Emmie Stevens, Ava Welborn, Alexis Harvey. Leah Magee, Ingrid Aracely Wagner, Haleigh Windstein, Hannah Hunt, Jenna Robinson, Cindy Xu, Megan Otterstetter, Sarah Grace Sprecher, Maeve Zelden, Caroline Wilcox, Jhada Wade;Sugar Plum: Katie Rose DeLeo, Chandler Beaman, Emma Camille Barbin; Fairy: Madeline Ford and Ketreon Butler; Attendants: Hannah Gale, Casey Chabaud, Delaney Dufrene, Marlon Grigsby, John Michael Moore, Brittany Nettles, Elizabeth Talbot, Le’Tiger Walker, Xavier Wilson, Olivia Zachary, Campbell Wall, Nelson Williams; Head Chefs: Le’Tiger Walker and Ketreon Butler; Chefs: Javier Banks, Dylan Gustafson, Noah Nagle, Brent Helouin Jr.; Cooks: Shelby Cadarette, Samantha Bass, Emily Carpenter. Alyse Bourgeois, Caroline Creech, Viola Chenevert, Destiny Hawkins, Amber Daigle, Ana Victoria Isaac, Sydney Fisher, Kennedy Lurry, Andrea Matus, Haley Major, Jessi Nickens, Michelle Menou, Pratima Pinnepalli, Anna Thibodeaux, Amelia Quebedeaux, Ashlyn Traylor, Demi Sanderson, Hannah Wilkerson, Kelijah West, Karin Wright, Ryan Whaley; Pages: Madison Albright, Sophia Gonzaga, Marc Acosta Jr., Van R. Mayhall IV, Julia Serpas, Jennifer Lin, Preston Jones, Jackson Shackelford; Spanish: Alexis Herrington, Christine Perkins, Rebecca Acosta, Marci Mallett; Arabian: Marci Mallett, Caroline Schulenberg, Le’Brian Patrick; Chinese: Madison Dillenberger, Hannah Gale, Emelia Perkins, Katie Rose DeLeo, Delaney Dufrene, Elizabeth Talbot, Olivia Zachary; Russian: Delia Ardoin, Leah Courter, Neil Courter, Tessa White; Marzipan: Katie Rose DeLeo, Hannah Gale, Caroline Schulenberg, Alexis Herrington, Olivia Zachary, Mary Beth Maddox; Lambs: Channi Anderson, Bethany Allen, Ella Boone, Belle Bonner, Isabella Bajon, Caroline Beck, Rose Crouch, Emily Collins, Lerin Bickham, Olivia Brocato, Macie D’Angelo, Hannah Duplessis, Camille Boudreaux, Nia Butler, Megyn Gauthier, Deborah Kleinpeter, Delaney Ferris, Kate Harris, Grace Greenup, Abigail Kukura, Claire Guerin, Emily Johnson, Johanna Hilbun, Madelyn Lee, Emma Hollenbaugh, Roya Kamyar, Lena Laroussi, Julia Shaffer, Victoria LeDuff, Olivia King, Sarah Li, Susanna Shields, Katherine Lossett, Sarah Marks, Isabella Palmintier, Leslie Stevens, Ainslie McNabb ,Madeline McCoy, Hanna Ray, Addison Talley, Jaida Shelmire, Michaela Tsanova, Lucy Sylvest, Megan Trauernicht, Allysa Wagenecht, Anna White, Avery Yeargainm, Abbie Turner; Mother Ginger: Jonna Cox; Bonbons: Mary Grace Beck, Grace Asevedo, Jordan Boshea, Aynsley Gaspard, Maile Braden, Catherine Carline, Natalie Gaspard, Leah Cox, Morgan Gallegos, Hayley Gregoire, Anna Lebold, Katherine Landrem, Elizabeth Jones, Caroline Petty, Gabriella Martinez, Anna Matherne, Caroline Petty, Claire White, Anna Matherne, Lauren Michelli, Natalie Wilder, Teddy Helouin. Alison Qi; Azalea Fair: Meredith Broussard; Flowers: Chandler Beaman, Hannah Gale,Alexis Herrington, Mary Beth Maddox, Brittany Nettles, Caroline Schulenberg, Campbell Wall, Chandler Beaman, Hannah Gale, Claire Broyles, Casey Chabaud, Katie Rose DeLeo, Madison Dillenberger, Delaney Dufrene, Marci Mallett, Olivia Zachary, Emma Camille Barbin; Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier: Erica Cornejo and Carlos Molina.